by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, December 18, 2018
Security at Christmas markets in France will be bolstered over the festive period as the country raised its terror alert to the highest level in the wake of a shooting in Strasbourg.
The gunman who took the lives of three people and injured 12 more at the eastern city on Thursday evening remains on the run, leading the Foreign Office (FCO) to warn British holidaymakers in the country that they should exercise caution and follow the advice of local authorities at all times. The terror attack at the city’s Christmas market was at the least the third in France this year and the 20th since the beginning of 2015.
Interior minister Christophe Castaner said the country had issued an “urgence attentat” (emergency attack) alert, handing the police more power and initiating the highest level of vigilance. Some 350 officers, with military reinforcements, are involved in the manhunt.
The Foreign Office said: “There may be increased security in place over the Christmas and New Year period, including at Christmas markets and other major events that might attract large crowds. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities.”
The FCO says that terrorists are “very likely to try to carry out attacks in France”, adding: “Due to ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups, and recent French military intervention against Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), the French government has warned the public to be especially vigilant and has reinforced its security measures.”
Has Strasbourg been targeted before?
The French city, which is the official seat of the European Parliament, has one of oldest Christmas markets in the country.
In 2000 it was the target in a failed al-Qaeda plot to bomb the cathedral.
How many attacks have been there in France since 2015?
The attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 began an age of terror across France. Since that attack, in which 12 died, the nation has suffered as many as 20 attacks of varying severity, the most serious being the November Attacks in Paris that saw 130 killed and scores more injured at locations across Paris.
The following summer in Nice, 84 people were killed when a truck was driven through a crowd on the city’s promenade during Bastille Day celebrations.
It was only last November, two years after its introduction, that the Government ended a nationwide state of emergency.
But both French and British authorities still warn travellers to be vigilant. The French government has issued advice on what to do in the event of a terror attack, based on the premise of “escape, hide, alert”.
France is consistently one of the UK’s most popular holiday destinations, with the Foreign Office estimating that around 17 million Britons travel across the Channel each year. It is the world’s most visited country with some 87 million people arriving there in 2017.
Is France’s terror level higher than the UK’s?
The UK’s terror threat is currently at severe, one below the highest level of critical. Severe indicates that “an attack is highly likely”.
According to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index that ranks the world’s nations according to their terror threat, France is 30th whereas the UK is 28th. Turkey is the highest ranked European country, in 12th position, while Ukraine is 21st and Germany 39th. Iraq is first, Afghanistan second and Nigeria third.
The Foreign Office says there is a “heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria”.
Can I cancel my trip to France?
You can, but you will have to pay any extra costs you incur. Travel companies are not obliged to offer free cancellation or repatriation unless the FCO advises against travel - though some do for a limited period after major events, but that would not be the case now.
While some hotels may allow you to postpone your booking, you are normally liable to honour any hotel bookings unless there is a free cancellation clause.
Will my travel insurance cover any losses if I don't travel?
Not usually. Travel insurance normally excludes costs associated with terrorist action.