Paris Airport Bars 72 Employees

BBC News, November 2, 2006

Some 72 airport staff, most of them Muslims, have been stripped of their security clearance at France’s main airport, Charles de Gaulle in Paris.

They pose a risk because of alleged links to groups with “potentially terrorist aims”, officials say.

The staff, who include baggage handlers, are said to have visited Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Some of them are suing the authorities, claiming they are being discriminated against because of their religion.

The interior ministry last year ordered a security review of airport staff.

“Seventy-two employees had their badges withdrawn [because] they are linked to fundamentalist movements with potentially terrorist aims,” Jacques Lebrot, the deputy prefect in charge of the airport, told the AFP news agency.

The “great majority” were linked to an “Islamist movement”, he said.

Badges were also taken away from “just under a dozen” people suspected of links to Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebels as well as from one Sikh worker.

Another 40 employees at the airport were currently being investigated as posing a possible security risk, he said.

Sixty-eight others have been cleared after investigation.

Shoe-bomber

Mr Lebrot said earlier this month that dozens of staff had lost the right to work in sensitive customs zones since May 2005 because French anti-terrorism officials said they posed “a risk to airport security”.

One employee is thought to have been in contact with a person who was in “direct contact” with Richard Reid, the so-called British shoe-bomber.

Reid tried to blow up a flight from Paris to the US in 2001.

Almost 200 staff, including baggage handlers and aircraft cleaners, had been under surveillance for months by French police and intelligence services over security risks linked to terrorism.

About a dozen other workers who have been identified as security risks still have access to sensitive areas of the airport because under French law, they must be allowed an opportunity to respond to the charges before they are suspended, says the BBC’s Clive Myrie in Paris.

It is estimated that of the more than 80,000 employees who work at the airport, about a fifth are Muslim.

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