Thu, Oct 23, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Paris practices response to deadly terrorist attack


This much is known: The attack begins at midnight, when terrorists release deadly gas into the Paris subway.

What's not so clear is whether France's security and rescue services are fully ready to respond. In an anti-terrorism exercise starting last night and ending today, they'll find out.

In the simulated attack near the Foreign Ministry, police said 500 emergency services agents will be asked to pretend that terrorists have released Sarin gas into the subway.

Sarin, a deadly nerve agent developed by the Nazis during World War II, was used in a 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway by doomsday cult Aum Shinri Kyo that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.

It was one of the worst acts of urban terrorism until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

The simulated chemical attack in Paris will target the Invalides Metro and suburban train station. Tourists may know it: The station on the Seine's left bank is close to Les Invalides, a gold-domed former hospital that houses the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Pretend "victims" will be treated and decontaminated in special tents to be erected on a park next to the station, police officials said. In summer, Parisians flock to that park to sunbathe and play soccer. The station and park will be closed for the duration of the exercise, which is expected to last a maximum of five hours, ending before dawn today.

Officials are not releasing many details: They wanted to keep an element of surprise that would make the exercise more realistic for the fire, police, hospital and other officials who will rush to the scene.

Police stressed that the simulation, which has been planned for months, was not being carried out because of a specific threat.

Rather, it is designed to test plans prepared over the past two years for dealing with terror attacks with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

The exercise, the first of its kind in the French capital, comes less than a week after France reduced its terror alert status to the lowest level.

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