France Under Highest Terror Alert in Wake of Moscow Concert Hall Attack

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
March 25, 2024World News
France Under Highest Terror Alert in Wake of Moscow Concert Hall Attack
French soldiers of the Sentinelle security operation patrol in front of the Saint-Lazare railway station in Paris on March 25, 2024. (Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images)

As the City of Light prepares to host the Summer Olympics in July, France, over the weekend, raised its terror alert to the highest level in the wake of the Friday terror attack in a Moscow concert hall, which an ISIS affiliate group claimed.

“Following the attack in Moscow, the French President convened a meeting of the National Defense and Security Council at the Elysée Palace this evening,” French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced on social media platform X Sunday evening.

“Given the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the attack and the threats weighing on our country, we have decided to raise the Vigipirate to its highest status: Attack Emergency.”

The massacre in the Russian concert hall, which claimed 137 lives and left at least 182 others injured, evokes horrifying memories of the November 2015 Paris attacks, when ISIS terrorists opened fire in the Bataclan theatre during a concert, killing 90, while others gunned 40 more down in crowded Paris cafes and restaurants.

Vigipirate, France’s national security alert system, has three alert levels: Vigilance, Heightened Security (risk of attack), and Attack Emergency. The highest alert level is only activated when an attack on French territory is believed to be imminent.

The Attack Emergency status greenlights more stops and searches and increases patrols by police and military forces in public places and infrastructure, like train stations and airports. Additional and restrictive measures may be taken, such as the closure of roads, public transport, school buses, etc.

During his announcement, the French Prime Minister said schools would receive immediate protection.

“In the coming hours, we will strengthen resources and staff on the ground, particularly near schools,” Mr. Attal wrote in a subsequent post.

“The enemy is known, it is Islamist terrorism,” he added. “The threat it poses to our country is strong and real. Since the start of the year, two attacks have been foiled. We will never give a single second of respite to those who wish to attack France.”

Earlier this month, the French government already scaled back the capacity of the Olympics opening ceremony to 326,000 over concerns about Islamic terrorism—when the original plans were to make the opening festivities accessible to as many as 600,000 people in a grand parade along the River Siene spanning roughly 6 kilometers (3.7 miles).

“To manage crowd movement, we can’t tell everyone to come,” French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told the press. “For security reasons that everyone understands, notably the terrorist threat of recent weeks, we are obliged to make it free but contained.”

Already in January 2023, the French Court of Auditors, the country’s supreme audit institution, called for “extreme vigilance and urges the finalization of the overall security plan for the Games in the first half of 2023, to stabilize private security needs for which a lack of resources is likely, and to plan the employment of internal security forces.”

France came under heightened terror alert in October when a teacher was stabbed to death by a radicalized former student in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Two months later, in December, Mr. Darmanin publicly warned that the country was “durably under threat from Islamist terrorism” after an ISIS sympathizer had stabbed a random person to death and injured two others with a hammer near the Eiffel Tower. According to authorities, the man was partly driven by anger at the war in Gaza.

“Islamism is not a religion, it simply isn’t even an ideology,” Mr. Attal said in a video statement published on the French government’s official social media account. “It is a spiral; an acceleration of hate that feeds off our naivety and which wants to destroy the Republic,”

Mr. Attal emphasized that the French government’s dedication to protect civilians and to “strangle” Islamism was “total.”

“We have results: 45 attacks have been foiled since 2017, and since the beginning of this year, in barely a few months, 2 planned attacks have been foiled in our country. 760 radicalized foreigners have been deported since 2017. Multiple imams have been expelled, mosques have been closed, organizations have been dissolved.”

On X, Mr. Attal thanked the French armed forces and law enforcement: “The Nation is united behind them. Faced with terrorism and barbarism, they are our shield.”

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