‘We are all Americans’: Shudders of fear spread across the world
PARIS (AP) – The French air force went on highest alert, with pilots at the ready in their jets. Governments across Europe sent troops to guard airports, train stations, border posts and nuclear plants. Commercial flights over London were banned and in Athens, security plans for the 2004 Olympics were being reviewed.
The devastating terror attacks on the United States occurred oceans away, but they sent shudders throughout the world – of sympathy but also fear. ”We are all Americans,” wrote the French newspaper Le Monde.
Many wondered how they could ever feel safe, if the mighty United States could be harmed so swiftly and drastically. ”Why couldn’t it happen here?” asked Daniel Cohen, who works at a dry cleaner in a posh sector of Paris. ”Here, Japan or anywhere that crazy people want to attack.”
As far off as Asia, special security forces and soldiers with bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled government buildings and airports, and international schools canceled classes Wednesday. Thousands were evacuated from the world’s tallest buildings, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in a bomb scare.
In Germany, the Foreign Ministry was evacuated in a similar scare and threats targeted the tallest building in Frankfurt, the Messeturm. In London, journalists were ordered out of the prime minister’s office during a brief security alert.
While all those threats appeared baseless, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta warned that terrorists might be planning a strike against American interests in Indonesia.
In many parts of the world, U.S. embassies closed down and erected barricades. ”As far as security goes, I’ve never seen anything like this – and I’ve been working here 28 years,” sanitation worker Baba Gassama said as he swept the street near the U.S. Embassy in Paris, where nonessential staff were told to remain home.
France’s air force was placed on maximum alert, with fighter pilots waiting in 10 Mirage jets, ready to be airborne within two minutes. Defense Minister Alain Richard said some 4,000 extra soldiers, police and gendarmes had been deployed nationwide to protect public places, part of a broad set of anti-terrorism measures. Most were deployed in Paris, but troops were also guarding the entrance to the Channel tunnel, which links France to Britain, and a nuclear plant in Normandy.
Britain’s Scotland Yard said it had marshaled 1,000 extra police for London’s streets.
NATO and the U.S. military tightened security across the Balkans, placing troops on high alert.
Some officials canceled trips for security reasons. Traveling European Commission officials, some as far away as Singapore, were called home immediately. French President Jacques Chirac called off a planned trip to Croatia and Yugoslavia.
In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told parliament the Group of Eight – the seven leading industrialized nations and Russia – ”are considering the possibility of holding a summit which can undertake concrete steps.” He did not elaborate.
The attacks reverberated as far as the West African nation of Liberia, where troops toting AK-47s blocked streets around the U.S. Embassy and heeded President Charles Taylor’s orders to stop everyone, on foot or in cars.
And in Athens, officials said they might have to re-evaluate security plans for the 2004 Olympics, even though a $600 million plan is already in the works.
”It is certain that this action, because it is unprecedented, creates a new situation,” said government spokesman Dimitris Reppas. ”It changes the map.”
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