24 December 2003

Europe steps up security during Christmas festivities

Europe steps up security during Christmas festivities.:

Security across Europe has been heightened amid fears of possible attacks over Christmas and New Year, prompting France to put its fighter planes on alert and Britain to deploy thousands of police on the streets of London.

The general nervousness was reinforced by public warnings from the United States over the past few days of an 'elevated' general level of risk of attack domestically, and a 'specific' threat in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain.

Although European officials made no mention of any specific danger to their countries, they stressed that a higher level of vigilance was needed because of the symbolic target that Christmas festivities presented.

'It is a sensitive time of year,' French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told Europe 1 radio.

She explained that her country's security forces had been on 'orange' alert, the third-highest level, since the beginning of December, meaning stepped-up patrols of airports, train stations and shops as well as churches, synagogues and mosques.

'We have also done so in regards to protecting our air space, with our fighter planes on permanent alert,' she said.

In Britain, the head of London's Metropolitan Police force, John Stevens, told BBC radio there had been a 'quantum leap' in terrorist activity and threats since the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001."

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