Increased security measures for Christmas celebrations
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Increased security measures for Christmas celebrations

Patrol Officers in Uniform and in Civilian Clothes. Markets are Under High Security.

The threat remains “high”. Alpes-Maritimes cities have secured their Christmas markets. Europol alerts about the risk of a car attack.

Reduced Police vacation-time, activated reinforcements, hospital delays, an ultra-secure airport, guarded Christmas markets, assault rifles, and so on. In the area traumatized by the attack of the 14th of July, officers of security agencies are being put on for the festivities. Authorities are not keeping it a secret: Christmas markets are at the forefront of concern. For their symbolism and the crowds they attract. In Strasbourg, the city centre was surrounded by about fifteen “checkpoints” this year.

“We are ready with the security plan we put in place for the Carnival 2015, after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and it has been strengthened even further,” says Marcel Auethier, departmental director of Public Security. The terrorist threat “persists in France at a particularly high level,” said recently Bernard Cazeneuve, Prime Minister.

No specific indication, according to Marcel Authier, of a particular danger weighing on the region more than at any other time.

But there was the attack of the 14th of July, with 86 dead and hundreds of victims. Who can forget that the Alpes-Maritimes suffered the greatest number of deaths by the jihad? The authorities fear the return of jihadists. Or the risk of a dormant cell or an unrelated isolated act.

Assault Rifles

In recent months, police have adapted, equipping their anti-crime brigade with assault rifles. “With these new weapons and new protective equipment, we are able to intervene at any point, we are vigilant,” says Marcel Authier. “An armed man, a suicide bomber, a wild vehicle, or other scenarios.” Based on a Europol report published a fortnight ago, European countries are particularly concerned about an attack from a car-bomb. Or from individuals with a knife or a hatchet.   And if, in the end, the threat lies elsewhere, terrorists knocking where they are not expected? “The Islamic state would focus on unprotected and vulnerable targets rather than on symbolic targets,” warns the Europol report.

Fort Knox at Christmas Markets

German police officers
German police officers secure the site of an accident with a truck at a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Christian Mang

France is in a state of emergency. “Vigipirate security has been increased during a risk of attack”. The safety of Christmas markets worries authorities. Concrete blocks in Nice and planters in Cannes have been put in to prevent any vehicle from hitting the crowd. “We held many meetings with the governing authorities and the municipalities,” says Marcel Authier, departmental director of Public Security. In Nice, even the skating rink was placed in a secure enclosure. All around and inside the markets, are police patrols in uniform and in civilian clothes. In Cannes or Nice in particular, the public is sometimes filtered twice: through security gates and metal detectors as well as bag searches. “The objective is to detect a weapon, like a knife”. With difficulty though, as large queues are created by these precautions. “This is a concern that we have taken into account with the combining of hands-on and passive protection”, – explains Marcel Authier.

The “information” about the markets has caused security to use a ‘concentric circle method’. “We have placed the first circle in the immediate vicinity with national and municipal policemen in uniform, and agents in civilian clothes and intelligence services,” says Marcel Authier.

Next are “less watertight” circles than a systematic search, but still very present: video protection and guards, including the military operation called “Sentinel”. “The support of the military is very important,” notes Marcel Authier. They have devices and heavy weaponry for this type of intervention. The concentric circles widen well beyond the markets. “It goes from the immediate vicinity down to the Town Centres and to Checks on the motorway by the national army.” In Nice, the new public transport security unit is also contributing. Despite this impressive team, Marcel Authier stresses that “no one can claim to provide total and absolute security”.

He also appreciates the commitments from law enforcement agencies. “I want to pay tribute to them, their holidays have been reduced to a minimum, they are fully mobilized, we have the maximum means at our disposal.” Means which include the anti-hold-up plan, which has the dual function of monitoring trade and preventing an act of terrorism.

Will you go to the Christmas markets?

We received many answers to our question on Facebook. For David Le Mabec, it is clear: “No, having lived through the misfortune of this summer, I cannot go to places with a high concentration of people. I still struggle as soon as I approach The Prom, and I also had trouble getting my Christmas shopping done for my daughters.”

‘Carol Cpn’: “I still hesitate to go.  We lived, on July 14th, in fear for our lives, and I do not want to revive the same thing for my children. I am saying that someone who wants to do something will always do it.”

There are those who go to the markets, like Mireille Saint Laurens, but not at any time: “Yes, I will go with my daughter because it is a moment of celebration, but not during popular hours, brave but not reckless!”

Corinne Locci explains that he went to Nice last Sunday. “Security is top, I will be back, because I was not even scared.”

Many of you find the markets less busy than other years. Like Val Scalerendji: “I went to Nice and Monaco last night, I found that there were very few people. It was on a weekday night, but in spite of everything much less people than in previous years.”

Among the reactions, those who refuse to give up their normal lives, like Isabelle Luccioni: “Yes, yes and yes, they will not prevent me from living.”

Note: this article was written before the attack on Berlin’s Christmas Market.

Source: Monaco Matin



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