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Terrorism For Members

Terror alerts: Should I be worried about travelling to France?

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Terror alerts: Should I be worried about travelling to France?
France has raised its terror threat level and extra soldiers are on patrol on the streets. Photo: AFP

France has raised its terror alert to the maximum level and in recent days airports, stations and tourist sites have been evacuated after bomb threats - so here's a look at the situation if you are planning a trip to France.

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On Tuesday police opened fire at a Paris train station after a woman reportedly threatened to detonate a bomb. No explosives were found. 

On Friday, October 13th the government announced that it was raising the terror alert to Urgence attentat - the highest level - after an apparently Islamist-inspired attack at a school in the north of the country in which a teacher was killed and two other staff members were injured.

Concerns over the threat of Islamist terrorism were heightened by the attack in neighbouring Belgium against Swedish football fans on Monday evening.

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France has been hit by repeated terror attacks in the past decade, and 290 people have been killed in Islamist terror attacks since 2011. However, briefing French media, the country's internal security service the DGSI said that the nature of the threat has changed profoundly in recent years.

Unlike the organised, coordinated attacks at the Bataclan and other targets in Paris in 2015, recent attacks have often been carried out by a single perpetrator, not affiliated to a terrorist organisation. The profile of attackers is often isolated young men who have become radicalised.

So what does the raised terror alert mean?

Heightened security

If you're at a public event, expect a high level of security. For most people the most visible manifestation of the heightened security alert is the extra soldiers on patrol on the streets of France, under the umbrella of Opération Sentinelle.

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Airports

Over the past two weeks dozens of airports have been evacuated and at least 130 flights cancelled due to bomb threats.

Transport minister Clément Beaune revealed on Tuesday that 100 hoax bomb threats had been sent to French airports in the past three weeks, around 70 of which have been traced to an email address in Switzerland.

Although all the threats turned out to be false alarms, passengers saw significant disruption on October 18th, 19th and 20th as dozens of airports including Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille and Paris Beauvais were forced to evacuate.

Beaune said that "planned false alerts are dangerous and unacceptable," adding that offenders risk two years in prison and a €30,000 fine.

A spokesperson for Bordeaux-Merignac Airport, saw a three-hour evacuation on Wednesday, October 18th that led to a dozen flights being cancelled and was evacuated again the following day, said: "It's a serious nuisance, but we take zero risks."

Tourist sites

Some of France's biggest tourist sites have also been hit by bomb hoaxes - the Palace of Versailles - the former home of French royals situated just outside Paris - was evacuated seven times in one week after receiving bomb threats.

The famous landmark is these days mostly a tourist attraction, but it does still have a government function as it hosts meetings, summits and state banquets for visiting dignitaries, such as the UK's King Charles, who visited in September.

The Louvre art gallery in Paris - which attracts around 10 million visitors a year - was closed after what officials described as a bomb threat. It reopened after security checks lasting several hours.

Following the evacuations of the Louvre and Versailles Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said there had been "no real threat" - in other words there were no bombs found or individuals ready to commit an act of terror.

He said: "The French public can be reassured that whenever there is the slightest doubt all the preventative means and the police resources we have are put in place."

Public transport

On Tuesday part of the Metro and RER train network was closed after police opened fire at a station in the 13th arrondissement when a woman reportedly threatened to detonate a bomb. No explosives were found.

So far there has not been any major disruption on France's national rail network, but it's a common event for a train to be delayed, or a Metro line suspended, due to a "suspect package". Indeed this was the case when Gare de Lyon station in Paris was partially evacuated.

These cases almost always turn out to be bags that someone has forgotten and there are regular appeals to passengers to make sure they take all their belongings with them on departing the train, in order to keep security alerts to a minimum. 

If you're visiting Paris, be aware that numerous Metro lines are closed for works over the next few weeks or months. 

Schools

The Lycée Gambetta - site of the terror attack in which teacher Dominique Bernard was killed - was evacuated after receiving a threat of a bomb on school premises. This turned out to be a hoax and pupils and teachers returned to class.

Several other schools have been hit by terror hoaxes in recent days, although schools in France are now closed until November 6th for the Toussaint holidays.

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Travel advice

So far, no country has warned its nationals against visiting France - the US State Department still lists the alert level for France as Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution, which has seen no change since July. 

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