Security tightens after explosives scare in Paris store
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France has beefed up security following the discovery of five dynamite stick in Paris’s Printemps Haussmann department store. The explosives, which had no detonators, were disabled by the police and there were no injuries.
Standing outside the Printemps Haussmann department store where explosives were discovered Tuesday morning, Sandrine Focquet confessed to being a tad slow to respond to the warning in the landmark Parisian department store.
“At first, I thought it was a joke,” said Focquet, an 18-year-old business student currently on a two-week internship at the Printemps baggage section. “But when I came out and saw all the police, I knew it wasn’t a joke.”
On a bitterly cold afternoon, Focquet joined the crowd of shoppers and sales staff gathered on Boulevard Haussman, in the heart of Paris’s shopping district, during the lunch hour as security teams combed through the three buildings that house the cavernous department store.
Covering 48,000 square metres, the elaborately decorated store is a favourite for Christmas shoppers from across the world and services an average of 100,000 customers daily, about a quarter of whom are tourists.
Stomping their feet, rubbing their hands and dashing in and out of the stores that line the French capital’s main shopping drag to keep warm, several sales staff said the evacuation was calm and the security services appeared to respond professionally. Like Sandrine, most of them just wanted to get indoors and get back to work.
Hours later, the store was reopened after security services provided “the necessary authorisation to reopen the buildings in conditions of optimum security,” according to Pierre Pelarey, the director of the Printemps Haussmann department store.
Dynamite in a third-floor toilet
The dynamite sticks were found in a third floor toilet in a building housing the men’s department. According to the French Interior Ministry, the explosives did not have detonators that would have permitted them to explode.
The discovery of the explosives came shortly after the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) received a letter saying that “several bombs” had been placed “in the men’s store at Printemps Haussman,” one of them “on the third floor in the toilets behind the cistern.”
Text of letter signed by ‘The Afghan Revolutionary Front’
The letter was signed by The Afghan Revolutionary Front, a previously unknown organization, and called for the French withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan “before February 2009.” It warned, “I assure you this is no joke, so tell the competent authorities right away or you will have blood on your hands.”
The letter by the previously unknown group was sent to the AFP news agency
France has more than 2,600 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan.
Tuesday’s incident came just two days after France hosted a meeting aimed at finding ways to bring Afghanistan out of its seemingly endless state of war, and to urge the country’s neighbouring states, in particular Pakistan and Iran, to play a more positive role.
Sarkozy calls for ‘vigilance’ and ‘firmness’
During an address before MEPs at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, French President Nicolas Sarkozy responded immediately to the news, calling for “vigilance” and “firmness” in the face of terrorism.
Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting at his office, French Prime Minister François Fillon said “the threat of terrorism on France is strong,” but he added that France “would not yield to it.”
French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said security reinforcements would be deployed in Paris and other major French cities. Alliot-Marie also said there would be a meeting of senior security and transportation officials as well as senior Printemps Haussmann executives on Wednesday.
Earlier Tuesday, the French interior minister warned that the claim of responsibility should be treated with caution. Speaking to reporters outside the store, Alliot-Marie said the end of the year holiday season “is particularly symbolic. We have to be suspicious of indications in the letter that might lead investigators up the wrong alley.”
Minutes after her departure, several Parisian shoppers gathered outside the store dismissed the Afghanistan link. “The decision to send our troops to Afghanistan was not just our decision, it was a decision made under NATO and UN auspices,” said Laurent Minaud, a 44-year-old sales director at a nearby store. “So if we want to be part of the international community, we have to be part of a collective decision.”
Minaud himself said he was not ruffled by Tuesday’s incident. “I was on my way to pick up an order from Printemps when I heard about it,” he said. “I thought it’s a good opportunity now because there will be less people at the store. But in fact, we now have to go through all the journalists here,” he said with a roar of laughter.
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