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Europe

France Prepares for Terrorist Attacks

France has experienced terrorism at the hands of Islamic extremists before and it’s determined to maintain the highest possible vigilance against further attacks.

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France is on the alert

In Paris, the bomb squad is getting far more calls than it did before September 11. They race out at breakneck speed whenever there"s a report of an abandoned knapsack, package, suitcase or other suspicious item.

This time, there"s a shopping cart in the Gare du Nord train station.

The bomb experts quickly assess the situation and decide to blow up the cart.

A brief moment of fear then the discovery that the shopping cart contains only rubbish and paper.

The police and army bomb squads are sick of false alarms. But they know that any of them could be serious. The next alarm comes from an anonymous phone call. A man with an Arab accent warns of a bomb in a pre-school. He describes precisely where the bomb is supposed to be - hidden in a large toy box.

The container is examined with great caution, then opened. It turns out to be yet another false alarm.

The threat of attacks has not increased as such; it"s the awareness of citizens for potential threats and the presence of security forces that have grown. People do not hesitate to report something that arouses their suspicion.

6,300 more security personnel are now deployed in the greater Paris region. Across France, police and the armed forces are on alert at all hours of the day and night.

Security forces at airports, metro stops and train stations are on particularly high alert. They patrol in small groups, like here at Paris" Montparnasse train station. They step in at the slightest suspicion, and they have the right to search anyone they choose.

Searching cars and opening their trunks without a judge"s warrant and monitoring telephone conversations and Internet communication are all to be made easier by a new law.

But the threat is still there, invisible and ever-present, making it difficult to narrow down targets and methods of possible attacks.

So experts advise that people be prepared for a worst-case scenario: an attack and its consequences for the population.

Authorities are taking very seriously indications that the Al Quaida terrorist network possesses biological weapons. Newspapers report that France"s secret service estimates some 200 French Muslim extremists have been trained in Osama bin Laden"s camps - a potential threat to France.

Simulated attacks in secret

So troops in a barracks outside Paris are simulating poison gas attacks on the city"s subway system to practice rescue operations.

These training sessions are carried out under the greatest secrecy. Pictures of them are not made public, to avoid panic among the citizens.

But the French government does admit that since the first anthrax infections in the United States were reported, there have been about 2300 similar alerts in France. For instance, envelopes containing suspicious powdery substances were found in this central post office. Thirty employees were temporarily hospitalized.

Similar incidents occurred at banks and public facilities, but so far there have been no actual anthrax infections.

The government has earmarked 60 million Euros or 54 million Dollars for what it calls the Biotox plan.

"Special laboratories are to be able to carry out the appropriate tests in cases of suspected biological weapons. The plans call for doctors and hospitals to be informed. Clinics specialized in the treatment of such cases will be named. And strategic supplies of antibiotics will be set up, as well as a range of vaccines - particularly important is the smallpox vaccine."

Nothing is being left out by health officials in their attempts to protect the public against potential threats. They know, however, that there can be no absolute protection in an open, democratic society. And just how great the threat is in France, is something no one can say for certain.