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France rehearses anti-terror response ahead of Olympics

Hiding behind a state-of-the-art nine-tonne armoured vehicle, a group of armed men in black slowly make their way towards a 19th-century chateau in the southern suburbs of Paris.

An hour earlier, four hooded assailants equipped with assault rifles stormed the historic building in Draveil, which houses a police academy.

Members of the French national police took part in joint training exercises to test their response to a “terror” attack as the capital gears up to host the Olympic Games this summer.

The authorities are keen to demonstrate they are well prepared.

When members of an elite tactical unit known by the acronym RAID arrive from their base in Bievres, located around 30 kilometres away, regular police units serving as first responders already have the scene under control.

A briefing is organised at the improvised crisis command post in the police school car park.

“Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has promised that police and intelligence services will be ‘ready’.”

With a map in hand, Captain Romain passes on to his team leaders the latest information gathered by the first responder – the location of the attackers still alive as well as the number of victims and hostages.

Then a representative of the first responders helps the RAID team in its response to the simulated attack.

“The idea is to work on the inter-operability between the services,” added Major Stephane, saying the exercise was designed to prepare for an attempted “mass killing”.

In line with the convention in the French security forces, both Captain Romain and Major Stephane could be identified by their first names only.

The recent attack on a Moscow concert hall, which killed at least 139 people, has raised fresh security fears for the Paris Olympics.

It echoed an assault on the Bataclan music venue in Paris in 2015 which left 90 people dead and was also claimed by the Islamic State group.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has promised that police and intelligence services will be “ready”.

The deputy head of the RAID’s operational support said the rehearsal went ‘perfectly well’

200 members of the elite unit will be mobilised every day, including around 100 for the sensitive Olympics opening ceremony on the Seine.

Earlier this month, Celine Berthon, head of the DGSI domestic intelligence service, alluded in the Senate upper house to “terrorist organisations targeting the West”.

“There is no doubt that as the event approaches, they will seize the opportunity presented by the Olympic Games,” she said.

France had already raised its security alert to the highest level after the Moscow concert hall attack.

“This is a rehearsal,” said the deputy head of the RAID’s operational support, identifying himself only by his first name, Pierre.

“Everything went perfectly well,” he said, noting that they have been conducting such exercises since the 2015 attacks and have by now obtained enough experience.

“It’s coming in at just the right time to manage the Olympics.”

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