After Two Terrorist Bombings, ‘They’ve Crippled the City’
PARIS (AP) _ In this tourist mecca shaken by two bombings in less than a month, every siren is cause for alarm.
Several hundred tourists and locals watched anxiously the other day as police and firefighters converged on a smoke-filled storefront on the famed Champs-Elysees. It’s just a fire, not another attack, gendarmes assured the onlookers.
Up the boulevard at the Galerie Claridge shopping mall, bombed during France’s last terror wave in 1985, Abra Vanelli’s antique shop has a large FOR RENT sign in the window.
The mother of three said Monday she feared the attacks were only the beginning of another wave of terror.
``The problem now is that people are used to it. It doesn’t have the same shock value. I’m afraid the terrorists will resort to something truly monstrous, like attacking a school.″
Last Thursday, a bomb shredded a trash can near the Arc de Triomphe and sprayed passersby with five-inch nails and hex nuts. Seventeen people were wounded, most of them foreign visitors.
That attack came just three weeks after a bomb tore through a subway car at the height of the evening rush hour July 25, killing seven people and wounding 84 others.
An Algerian extremist group has claimed responsibility for both bombings, rattling nerves and raising the specter of more to come.
On a hot summer afternoon, cafe terraces on the Champs-Elysees were eerily deserted, the normally carefree atmosphere dampened by the sight of jackbooted French riot police peering under tables and into doorways.
A man withdrawing money from a cash machine looked perplexed. The crumpled receipt he unthinkingly tossed at a trash can bounces off and into a pile on the ground.
Police sealed the trash can shut to prevent terrorists from planting something more lethal than a ball of paper.
The man tending a newsstand a few hundred yards from where the bomb exploded Thursday just shrugs.
``It’s not the bombs I’m afraid about. It’s my business. Look around _ it’s a desert. Just like in `86,″ Gerard Chabalier complained.
``They’ve crippled the city,″ said the Rev. Dennis Seler of Massachusetts, leading a group of American teen-agers. The group intended to perform music, pantomime and drama in public squares around Paris. But police repeatedly chased them away, cracking down on anything that might draw a crowd.
The Paris prosecutor’s anti-terrorist unit is feverishly working on the attacks, and police have been deployed at airports, train stations and other likely targets in an all-out effort to avert a wave of bombings like the ones in 1985 and 1986.
But the bomb scares that followed the subway bombing have returned to haunt Paris in the wake of the Arc de Triomphe attack.
Last weekend, 77 alerts prompted by telephone threats or forgotten luggage forced the evacuation of hundreds of people from the pyramid entrance to the Louvre museum, a department store and several train stations.
Despite the fact that the bombings have hit the heart of Paris at the height of the tourist season, foreign visitors continue streaming into the capital, queuing up outside the Eiffel Tower and packing the tour boats that ply the Seine river.
Mayor Jean Tiberi has appealed to Parisians not to overreact and to go about their daily affairs, albeit with vigilance.
But with police _ and fear _ on every street corner and in many Metro subway trains, it’s not that easy.
``Quite simply, my wife is afraid to take the Metro,″ said Wolfgang Kitsch of Germany. She’s not the only one _ subway traffic is down about 15 percent since the first bombing, according to the Paris transit authority.
``We’ll have to rent a car so we can see the monuments and museums,″ Kitsch said.