October 2001

France ready to shoot down hijacked planes

Reuters, 18 October 2001

[Posted 18/10/2001]

PARIS, Oct 18 (Reuters) - France is ready to use warplanes to shoot down hijacked aircraft aimed at key sites such as nuclear plants following the September 11 attacks in the United States, Defence Minister Alain Richard said on Thursday.

"We are working... to establish aerial protection zones through rapid intervention of (military) aircraft," Richard told French news television channel LCI.

Asked if ground to air missiles might also be used, Richard said: "It is one of the possibilities but the aircraft, when they are sent to intervene in the case of a hijacked plane, are also armed. The two measures are complementary."

Richard said the government had not been informed of any particular threat but wanted to ensure the security of military and civilian sites including large dams, nuclear installations and some urban and industrial zones.

France has 19 nuclear power plants producing 76 percent of its electricity, the highest proportion of any country.

National power producer EdF declined to give details of security measures in place at its installations beyond saying that heightened government security arrangements in place since September 11 also included safeguarding its plants.

An EdF spokesman said the company also managed some 500 dams in France of which 150 were over 20 metres (yards) in height and therefore possibly in need of protection. Richard said proximity to residential areas was a factor in assessing risks.

Regional newspaper L'Ouest France quoted unnamed sources on Thursday as saying missiles with a range of 20 km (13 miles) would be placed around the large nuclear waste reprocessing plant in La Hague, northern France.

A Defence Ministry spokesman confirmed La Hague was among the sites considered sensitive but gave no further details.

Cogema, the company that runs the La Hague plant, issued a statement saying measures would be put in place "in the coming days" but did not say what exactly the measures would involve.

French military aircraft have previously been deployed to create a so-called protection "bubble" around sites for special events, such as summits of the G7 group of major industrial nations or the staging of the soccer World Cup here in 1998.

France has tightened security at public places such as train stations and airports since hijackers flew passenger planes into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.

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