France vows crackdown as new bomb alerts shut attractions and airports

Government raised its terror threat system to its highest level after a teacher was killed

Tourists enter Versailles Palace after an evacuation order was lifted. Reuters
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Several regional airports in France have been evacuated again after warnings of attack, with the government considering clamping down on fake threats.

New warnings on Thursday forced evacuations at six airports – Bordeaux, Nantes, Lille, Montpellier, Beauvais and Tarbes-Lourde – French media reported.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti blamed “little jokers” for a spate of threats that temporarily shut the Eiffel Tower, as well as Versailles Palace for four days and six airports – Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse and Beauvais – on Wednesday.

After a teacher was killed in France last week, the government raised its terror threat system to the highest level.

However, it was not immediately apparent if that was one of the reasons for the daily evacuations since then.

Europe is on edge amid rising tension due to the conflict in Gaza and Israel, and the killing of two Swedish football fans in Belgium.

On Thursday, there was an evacuation due to a bomb threat at Montpellier airport, regional authorities said.

Lille airport’s social media account said at 11am that it was being evacuated after a bomb threat. It is now “progressively reopening”.

Bordeaux, Nantes, Lille and Montpellier were also evacuated, Le Figaro reported.

Beauvais, which is used by budget carriers to serve the Paris region, and Tarbes-Lourdes airport in the south-western Pyrenees region were also evacuated.

On Wednesday, Mr Dupond-Moretti said the “little jokers” behind the false bomb alerts would be punished.

“They will be found, they will be punished and their parents will be required to reimburse the damages they have caused” if they are minors, he said.

Emailed “threats of attack” combined with abandoned luggage scares triggered evacuations at multiple airports including Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Nice, Toulouse and Beauvais, leading to hours of delays.

The Palace of Versailles, a major tourist attraction, has been evacuated three times since Saturday for bomb disposal teams to check the site. The Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum have also been evacuated.

Versailles, a former royal château, apologised to visitors for forcing them to evacuate from the 17th-century palace “for security reasons”.

The tourist attraction said on X, formerly Twitter, that it reopened hours later after checks.

Government spokesman Olivier Veran said that security alerts and evacuations must not grip France with fear.

“This is what the terrorists are waiting for, to terrorise us. We can be vigilant and I prefer to speak about a vigilant society,” Mr Veran said.

“Vigilance, yes. Fear, no,” he added. “And even less so terror and not psychosis.”

Security alerts are evaluated on a case-by-case basis in co-ordination with the police, he added.

The high school in Arras, where the teacher was murdered by a former pupil suspected to be a terrorist, was evacuated on Monday after a security alert, shortly before a moment of silence in schools across France.

The antiterrorism prosecutor said on Tuesday that the former pupil declared his allegiance to ISIS before the stabbing.

France has heightened its threat alert level, with authorities adding 7,000 soldiers to the 3,000 already in French streets.

They are tasked with guarding Jewish places of worship, schools, train stations and other sensitive areas.

Belgian police killed 45-year-old Tunisian Abdesalem Lassoued, suspected in the football fan killing which is being treated as a “terrorist attack”. ISIS claimed responsibility for the Belgian attack.

Updated: October 19, 2023, 1:26 PM