PARIS, April 9 (AFP) – The scare that led to the evacuation of five commuter rail stations in Paris on Thursday evening was the latest in a series of threats that has the country’s intelligence services living on their nerves.
A tip-off from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) led transport authorities to shut down the A line of the RER suburban rail network, which runs through the city centre, just after peak travel time.
After searches of stations and checks on passengers lasting an hour and a half, the line was re-opened at 9.30 p.m. No suspicious items were discovered.
The incident was a new sign of the terrorist jitters affecting all European capitals, following the March 11 bomb attacks in Madrid that killed more than 190 people. The Easter holiday period has long been seen as a danger hot point.
“We had to base our reaction on the principle of responsibility and precaution … We have to stay on the alert and respond to all the signals that reach us,” Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said Friday when questioned on the Paris RER scare.
The French authorities have issued a series of public warnings over the past months, some as a result of information received from the United States.
Over Christmas and again in early February several flights between France and the US – as well as between Britain and the US – were cancelled because of intelligence “chatter” indicating that a jet could be targetted by Islamic extremists.
France has also faced a threat from an obscure group – or possibly individual – calling itself AZF, which has planted at least one bomb on the rail network in a campaign to blackmail money out of the government.
A second bomb was found on tracks southeast of Paris last month, but it has yet to be established if it was placed there by AZF. In its last communication
March 25 the group said it was suspending its actions but promised to return with a more deadly threat.
And on March 16 the government received a message from a group calling itself “Servants of Allah, the Powerful and Wise One,” which threatened to strike “blindly and violently” unless France withdraws a law banning the Islamic headscarf from state schools.
The veracity of the threat has not been established.
Following the Madrid bombings France raised its terror alert rating from the lowest level yellow to orange, meaning an increase in patrols at stations, airports and other public spaces.
Police said Thursday evening’s warning to the CIA came in an anonymous e-mail message from Madrid, and a US government official confirmed Washington had quickly passed on the information to France.
“The US government did pass some uncorroborated information to the French,” the official told AFP. He said the information was transmitted “due to time sensitivity,” despite the fact that “it wasn’t necessarily verifiable at the time.”
Paris police said Thursday’s state of alert caused disruption to traffic during the rush hour.
But there was no panic during a period of the day when some 40,000 commuters were using the A line running across Paris from east to west and serving major business districts such as La Defense and the Champs-Elysees, as well as Chatelet-Les Halles, the capital’s biggest urban communications hub.
Subject: French news