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Sunday, 23 December, 2001, 17:44 GMT
France tightens airport security
Security checks at Charles de Gaulle airport
Passengers must now even have their shoes checked
Jon Sopel

For passengers flying out of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on Sunday, there is a new security check.

Shoes are having to be taken off and passed through the X-ray machine, in an obvious response to last night's security breach.

The extra security is the latest addition to a series of precautions introduced since the 11 September attacks.

Other focuses of concern have been the prevention of anyone boarding a plane with knives or box cutters, similar to those used in the hijackings.

Changing tactics

But how do you clamp down on apparently highly organised terrorist groups who are prepared to change their tactics; ever willing to exploit other, unforeseen gaps in airport security?

American Airlines plane in which man suspected of carrying explosives was detained
French police are looking into how the suspect was able to board the plane

As French border police start their inquiry into Saturday's incident, they will also want to look at the way this man's passport was checked.

Though looking and behaving suspiciously, some reports suggest he was able to present a stolen British passport -apparently with someone else's photograph in it - which could only have been given the most cursory glance.

But French interior ministry officials are playing down the significance of the episode, pointing out that on the flight the man was doing everything to draw attention to himself.

This is a far cry from the disciplined and ruthless way in which the al-Qaeda terrorists behaved on 11 September.

Some successes

Charles de Gaulle airport intensified security measures conspicuously after the September hijackings, and across France there is 'Operation Vigipirate' to counter the terrorist threat.

So far, the French security services have had some notable successes in their counter terrorism strategy, most notably foiling an elaborate plot to blow up the US embassy in the centre of Paris.

Whether Saturday's incident turns out to be the latest chapter in al-Qaeda's campaign of terror, or the act of a lone man, the results are likely to be the same.

There will be further searching questions about how airports can make themselves more secure.

And perhaps there will be yet another seed of doubt planted in the mind of a public already wary of travelling.

See also:

13 Sep 01 | Americas
No passport, no ticket - no problem
23 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda threat lives on
21 Dec 01 | Americas
More groups join US terror blacklist
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