Officials intercept terror plot at Eiffel Tower
The Tower was briefly evacuated Tuesday evening after officials received a bomb threat called in from a telephone booth
By Paisley Dodds
Associated Press Writer
LONDON — Intelligence officials have intercepted a credible terror plot against Britain and France, raising security fears at the Eiffel Tower on Tuesday, but failing to raise the overall threat level in either country.
The Eiffel Tower was briefly evacuated Tuesday evening after officials received a bomb threat called in from a telephone booth. It was the second such alert at the monument in two weeks.
The warning came as French officials were put on alert for possible terror attacks. British officials, too, have been aware of a possible attack but the terror threat warning has not changed from "severe."
"There have been a succession of terror operations we've been dealing with over recent weeks but one to two that have preoccupied us," said one British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work. "Still, it hasn't been to the degree that we have raised the threat level."
Another British official, who spoke on the same terms, would not confirm the plot was "al-Qaida inspired" but said there was an "Islamist connection" and that the plots were in an early stage. No other details were given.
Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States nine years ago, the terror group has moved outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan to other countries such as Somalia and Yemen.
German officials denied Tuesday they had intercepted threats, saying there had been no change to their threat level.
French police on Tuesday closed off the surroundings of the Eiffel Tower, France's most visited monument. Officers pulled red-and-white police tape across a bridge leading over the Seine River to the monument. Officers stood guard.
Bomb experts combed through the 324-meter (1,063-foot) tower and found nothing unusual, the Paris police headquarters said. Tourists were let back inside about two hours after the structure was emptied.
Jean Dupeu, a 74-year-old Paris retiree, had planned to go to dinner in the tower but found himself looking for another restaurant.
"It's surely a bad joke," he said of the threat, adding, "Now is not a good time."
National Police Chief Frederic Pechenard said last week that authorities suspect al-Qaida's North African branch of plotting a bomb attack on a crowded location in France. His warning came after al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, claimed responsibility for the Sept. 16 abduction of five French nationals and two Africans in northern Niger.
The French parliament voted this month to ban burqa-style Islamic veils in France, a subject that has prompted warnings by AQIM. Counterterrorism officials say that is just one of several factors contributing to the heightened threat.
At the Eiffel Tower, an anonymous caller called in a warning to firefighters, the Paris police headquarters said. The company that runs the monument asked police to evacuate it.
Police responded to a similar false alert at the tower on Sept. 14, also following a phone threat. On Monday, the bustling Saint Lazare train station in Paris was briefly evacuated and searched.
As soon as the latest bomb alert ended, huge lines of eager tourists immediately formed under the tower.
Mike Yore, 43, of Orlando, Florida, was among those waiting in line at the 121-year-old iron monument.
"There's no bomb that can blow this thing up," he said.