French security forces are bracing for the eventuality of civil unrest and fear there could be a missile strike on a passenger airliner or a September 11-style attack, according to sources close to French intelligence.
“Airlines have been warned of a possible attack on a plane with an anti-tank missile,” a source claimed. “But pilots are unsure how to take evasive action.”
After last week’s thwarted attempt to massacre passengers on an Amsterdam-Paris train and a series of terrorist attacks and attempted murders in France this year, President François Hollande warned the nation to prepare for more violence, which is considered inevitable as the Islamist threat grows.
The French army has made contingency plans for the “reappropriation of national territory”, meaning the winning back of control of neighbourhoods where the population become hostile to the security forces and where guns are easily obtainable, according to the source.
“There are a lot of alienated and angry fourth-generation immigrant kids in the suburbs and the prospect of radicalisation is increasingly likely,” the source said.
“The idea that attacks like the one on the train are carried out by individuals acting on their own is not credible.
“We’re dealing with highly organised networks of militant Islamists embarked on a campaign of violence and determined to intensify it.”
Kalashnikov automatic rifles – used by the train gunman and Islamist terrorists who killed 17 people in Paris in January – and anti-tank missiles are now obtainable in France. Many were smuggled in from the former Yugoslavia after the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
More weapons have come in from Libya, the sources said, adding that organised crime and terrorist groups were working together to procure them.
“We don’t know what happened to the arms that we (France) supplied to Libyan rebels. It’s worrying,” the source said.
In the chaos following the fall of the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, French officials described the north African country as an “open-air arms market”.
In 2011, France admitted to sending “light weapons” to Libyan rebels but French media reported that consignments of heavier arms, including anti-tank missiles, were also sent.
There were fears that Isil, al-Qa’ida and other Islamist groups were procuring heavy weapons from the stocks of Gaddafi’s former army and that rebel groups were losing control of their own arms.
As early as 2010, an anti-tank missile was seized by police, along with several tons of cannabis. Since then, an unknown number of rocket-propelled grenades and missiles are believed to have been smuggled into the country.
A missile attack could be devastating for an airliner, particularly if the plane was taking off and full of fuel. The main Paris airport at Roissy is near drug-infested suburbs of the capital prone to violence.
Agents of the DGSI, France’s secret service, warned that they are powerless to improve surveillance of Islamist militants bent on losing their lives to cause maximum carnage and have been “lucky” to have avoided far worse catastrophes since the Paris Islamist attacks in January that killed 17.
An agent said there were fears of “an upcoming 11 September à la française, where (intelligence) services are mere spectators”.
Luck, rather than judgment, had allayed larger-scale strikes, another is cited as saying.
“We’ve been lucky. Passengers on a train who neutralise a suspect; another who shoots himself in the foot, then calls the emergency services; and a third who fails to blow up a chemical factory.
“Without these fortuitous turns of events, the human and material toll would have been much higher. And we wouldn’t have been able to change a thing,” he told the weekly newspaper ‘Le Canard Enchaîné’.
“The truth is we’ve already tried everything. But we’ve reached the very limits of what we are able to do, as much from a legislative and organisational as a financial point of view.”
European transport ministers are due to discuss more “systematic and co-ordinated” security checks across the continent in a meeting in Paris on Saturday.
Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, said: “We must examine whether we can implement a system that allows for more systematic checks in airports, in public transport, in a more co-ordinated way.”