Frankfurt, Brussels (30/10 – 30)
The French authorities have opened 64 different investigations into bomb threats, targeting airports, schools and museums, following the murder of a teacher by a terrorist earlier this month. The official warning of a potential bomb threat has in fact resulted in unforeseen and deleterious consequences.
The entire nation of France has been on heightened alert since the fatal stabbing of schoolteacher Dominique Bernard on Oct. 13, an act attributed to a suspected Islamic extremist, one who had allegedly declared allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). The heightened alert has exacerbated a nervous atmosphere across the nation, overloading the authorities conducting investigations. The triggering of one false alarm sparks a whole series, a judicial source admitted.
French Transport Minister Clement Beaune revealed that on Oct. 18 a cascade of false threats were made against 17 airports, resulting in widespread disruption, the evacuation of 15 airports, the cancellation of 130 flights and many flight delays. Tourist sites have also been targeted. The Palace of Versailles was closed for the fifth time in a week on Friday, Oct. 20, after yet another threat, affecting thousands of visitors. The Louvre in Paris was also forced to evacuate thousands of visitors on Oct. 14. Even a nuclear research institute received a threat on Oct. 19.
France is boosting security at airports around the capital and on trains, following the wave of bomb hoaxes. Security patrols at Paris airports have been expanded by 40 percent, as staff at national railway company SNCF were reinforced by 20 percent. Additional police patrols are assigned to railway stations; they announced reinforced security for the final two Rugby World Cup matches, held at the Stade de France in Paris on Oct. 27-28.
While no explosives have yet been found, authorities cannot afford to take risks with the lives of travelers, students or workers. The government is growing impatient, threatening long prison terms and heavy fines for those making fake bomb threats.
The threats have been made by telephone or email, via a website launched in 2020 to directly text police officers, and by contacting officials through social media accounts. Transport Minister Beaune added that almost all of these alerts were sent from the same Swiss-based email address.
Authorities are relying on IP addresses and phone numbers to identify those responsible. According to figures from the Justice Ministry, 670 perpetrators were convicted of this type of offence in 2022, against just 759 in 2021.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Thursday evening, Oct. 19, that 18 people, mostly minors, had been detained in the last 48 hours, but he stressed that France was under no specific threat. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti blamed the alerts on “little jokers, little clowns” and warned of the consequences. Transport Minister Beaune said that hoaxes are not “small jokes – these are serious crimes” and will be investigated.
Under French law, such “prank calls” can be punished with up to 3 years imprisonment and fines of €45,000. The Justice Minister warned minors’ parents that they could be billed for damages, while the Interior Minister promised that student pranksters won’t get off the hook: their names and phone numbers will be transmitted to the National Education system.