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France on ‘red’ alert in rail stations, airports

PARIS, March 15 (AFP) – The French government said Monday it would maintain its terror alert rating at its second-highest level in train stations and airports, but officials insisted the country faced no specific threat.

“The Madrid attacks remind us that terrorism is a global threat and we must remain very attentive, very vigilant, mobilized and determined,” government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said after a ministerial meeting on security.

France raised its terror alert rating in transport hubs from orange to red on Friday, the day after a series of coordinated rush-hour attacks on commuter trains in Madrid left 200 people dead and 1,500 others wounded.

The Vigipirate plan has four levels, running from the lowest at yellow, to orange and red, with scarlet being the highest.

The nationwide alert rating stands at orange.

Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who participated in Monday’s meeting, said afterwards in the Riviera city of Nice that France was “not directly targeted by terrorism, but that terrorism can take aim at anyone, anytime.”

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said security agents had stopped and questioned some 5,000 people in Paris area train stations on Monday, detaining 30 people for weapons and drugs possession.

“We are going to step up these checks day and night,” he told reporters. “We can’t check everyone, but we have the duty to remain mobilized every day.”

For his part, Transport Minister Gilles de Robien said Charles de Gaulle airport north of the French capital faced no specific threat, but noted: “Transport hubs are more at risk as there is a high concentration of people.”

In recent weeks, France’s national railway SNCF has come under threat from a shadowy group that claims to have planted bombs along the tracks.

The mysterious group, calling itself AZF, issued a new threat at the weekend, saying it would set off explosive devices on the rails unless Paris paid it more than USD 5 million.

An exhaustive search of the entire 32,000-kilometer (20,000-mile) French rail system failed to produce any bombs, but anti-terrorism experts have refused to rule out the possibility that the bombs are well-hidden or have yet to be planted.


                                                              Subject: France news