Following the recent fatal shootings of three parachutists, and three children and an adult outside a Jewish school, the Midi-Pyrénées area of France is on Vigipirate Écarlate – scarlet terrorist alert. Vigipirate stands for ‘Vigilance et Protection des Installations contre les Risques d’Attentats à l’Explosif’. Niveau Écarlate, scarlet level, is the highest level of such vigilance and it’s the first time it’s ever been enacted in France.
What it means in practice is that the police, both national and the gendarmes, and the military are being deployed to keep public areas safe. The intention is to prévenir le risque d’attentats majeurs (isolés ou simultanés) pouvant utiliser des modes opératoires différents au prix de mesures très contraignantes - to prevent the risk of major terrorist atrocities, either isolated or concurrent, by using different methods of operation to achieve restrictive measures, or words to that effect.
The vigipirate plan was introduced in 1978 by Giscard d’Estaing following terrorist attacks in Europe. (The Red Brigade was active in Italy and there had been an incident at Orly airport which ended in the deaths of three terrorists and one policemen, and three passengers were injured – amongst other horrific events.) It was first called into play in 1991, during the Gulf War, and has been updated quite regularly, the last time being in 2005. There are five levels, 0 to 4 or white to scarlet, via yellow, orange and red. White is the absence of any sort of threat, while scarlet reflects a definite threat which must be prevented.
A lot of people are talking about Vigipirate, and whether it will do any good or not. There’s a certain amount of disgust that one guy with a gun and a motorbike is holding the State – the fifth biggest military power country in the world – to ransom like this. There are also some murmurings that if this wasn’t election year, then perhaps less would be being done about these attacks. I’m not so sure about that. Sarkozy has been motivated to act because children were killed. He stated yesterday: ‘You cannot murder children like this on the territory of the Republic without being held to account.’ Damn right.
Some people are commenting that soldiers shouldn’t be used as extra police officers – that’s not what they’re meant to be. Others are saying that the increased use of CCTV would play a crucial role, and cite England as an example of where this is working well. It’s acknowledged that security cameras can’t stop a terrorist or criminal attack, but they sure as heck can help catch the culprits later, as in the Jamie Bulger and the July 2005 London underground bombings.
It’s a sad and bad time for France at the moment. But despite differences of opinion over what the government is doing, it’s true to say that everyone is praying that this murderer is caught as soon as possible. He’s a psychopath who will carry on killing until he’s stopped.