Europe tight­ens up se­cu­rity at mar­kets

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Se­cu­rity was beefed up at Christmas mar­kets across Europe af­ter a lorry ploughed through a mar­ket in Ber­lin killing 12 peo­ple and height­en­ing se­cu­rity fears at the on­set of the hol­i­day sea­son. The car­nage in the Ger­man cap­i­tal had par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance in France, which has borne the brunt of ter­ror at­tacks in Europe for the past two years.

The wit­ness ac­counts of a truck bar­rel­ing through a crowd of rev­el­ers im­me­di­ately brought to mind the scenes in the Riviera city of Nice in July, where an Is­lamist used a truck to mow down 86 peo­ple dur­ing Bastille Day cel­e­bra­tions. Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande said France was un­der a “high level of threat” fol­low­ing the events in Ber­lin but pointed out that the coun­try al­ready has a large-scale se­cu­rity op­er­a­tion in place. “We have a high level of threat and we also have a par­tic­u­larly high level of mo­bi­liza­tion and vig­i­lance,” Hol­lande said.

France’s best-known Christmas mar­ket in the pic­turesque eastern city of Stras­bourg has been a par­tic­u­lar con­cern for se­cu­rity forces for years, with at least two ji­hadist cells in the city be­ing bro­ken up in the past few years. Bruno Le Roux, France’s re­cently ap­pointed in­te­rior min­is­ter, vis­ited the mar­ket on Tues­day, telling Europe 1 ra­dio that author­i­ties “will en­sure the se­cu­rity of our ter­ri­tory and cit­i­zens”. He urged peo­ple to “en­joy them­selves” but also be care­ful when cel­e­brat­ing Christmas and the New Year.

In Stras­bourg, po­lice have set up bar­ri­cades at the var­i­ous en­try points to the main is­land of the city, where the mar­ket is lo­cated. While the of­fi­cers check bags, pri­vate se­cu­rity guards min­gle with the crowd to keep watch. The large Christmas mar­ket ex­tend­ing along the renowned Champ­sEl­y­sees av­enue in Paris was the tar­get for a gang of six sus­pected ji­hadists ar­rested in Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors.

In the wake of the Ber­lin attack, of­fi­cials on Tues­day added more con­crete blast blocks at pedes­trian en­trances to the mar­ket, which is sealed off on the traf­fic side by bar­ri­cades. Ivan Pallen, a 27-year-old mar­ket­ing stu­dent from Mau­ri­tius who was en­joy­ing the fes­tive stalls sell­ing sweets and mulled wine, said the level of se­cu­rity was a hard bal­ance to strike. “You don’t see many po­lice but per­haps they are in plain clothes,” he told AFP. “At the same time, you don’t want to see sol­diers car­ry­ing weapons sta­tioned ev­ery two me­tres along a Christmas mar­ket.”

Bel­gium, where many of the plots in Europe have orig­i­nated, left its alert level at “pos­si­ble or likely” attack. In Bri­tain, the cen­tral English city of Birm­ing­ham erected con­crete blocks ear­lier this month around what it bills as the “largest au­then­tic Ger­man Christmas mar­ket out­side Ger­many or Aus­tria”. A spokesman for the Na­tional Po­lice Chiefs’ Coun­cil said that de­spite the Ber­lin attack, the threat to Bri­tain re­mained un­changed at se­vere, mean­ing an attack was “highly likely”.

In Aus­tria, a tra­di­tional home of the Christmas mar­ket, author­i­ties said se­cu­rity would be stepped up around such sites. Aus­trian In­te­rior Min­is­ter Wolf­gang Sobotka urged peo­ple not to change their Christmas rou­tines, but to be alert to any­thing un­usual.

“I ask ev­ery­one to con­tinue to go to mar­kets or big events, al­beit while ex­er­cis­ing the great­est cau­tion,” he said. Poland, where the truck used in the Ber­lin ram­page be­gan its jour­ney be­fore be­ing ap­par­ently hi­jacked, said it would lay on more po­lice pa­trols around sen­si­tive sites such as sta­tions and shop­ping cen­ters. — AFP

DORT­MUND: Po­lice of­fi­cers car­ry­ing ma­chine guns pa­trol at the Christmas mar­ket. — AP

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