French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday, October 29, that France's "vigipirate" terrorism threat system has been raised to its highest level, indicating an urgent threat of attacks. The move came in response to the killing of three people in a suspected Islamic extremist attack at the Notre-Dame basilica in Nice (Alpes-Maritimes) on Thursday morning and the death of another terrorism suspect after he was shot by police in the southern city of Avignon (Vaucluse), and follows a number of terrorism incidents in France in recent weeks.
The increased threat level is likely to see additional police and security personnel deployed at sensitive sites around the country, including government offices and major landmarks, as well as throughout city centers. Anti-terrorism operations, which have been ongoing since the fatal attack on teacher Samuel Paty on October 16, are also likely to continue following the announcement, with further arrests expected in the near term.
The risk of extremist attacks in France is likely to remain elevated in the medium term, with prominent locations including places of worship, tourist sites, and transport hubs remaining the most likely targets. Although the highest "vigipirate" is usually only applied for a limited period in response to a specific threat, it is unclear how long the latest alert will remain in place.
Tensions over the government's response to the murder of teacher Samuel Paty by an alleged Islamist extremist in the northern Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on October 16 have seen increasing concerns over the terrorism threat in France and against French interests internationally over the last two weeks. The attack prompted an outpouring of support in France and a strong response from the government which saw dozens arrested and several organizations and mosques closed in a widespread crackdown on alleged Islamic extremism. However, comments from President Emmanuel Macron regarding religious rights and freedom of expression and the display of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad at solidarity rallies following the attack have since prompted accusations of Islamophobia from several Muslim political and religious leaders around the world.
Dozens of protests over the crackdown and French government policies have since been held outside French embassies and consulates in multiple countries over the last week, including Turkey, Bangladesh, Iran, Mali, Mauritania, Libya, Pakistan, and Indonesia, some of which have drawn thousands of participants. There have also been widespread calls for a boycott of French goods, particularly foodstuffs, in Muslim-majority countries, with the protest being supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and several other Muslim leaders.
Those in France are advised to exercise a heightened level of vigilance in light of the increased terrorism threat, immediately reporting any suspicious activity to the local police and relevant authorities. Security is likely to be increased at sensitive sites around the country, including government offices, major landmarks, and transport hub, as well as throughout city centers, and travelers should anticipate disruptions from increased security checks. Travelers should exercise heightened caution if visiting markets, places of worship, tourist sites, and other crowded areas and monitor local media sources to remain apprised of security-related developments in their particular area of operations.
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