Little before French anti-terror police squad launched wee hour raids in the northern Paris suburb, bomb scare across two continents led to the diversion of two passenger planes and an evacuation of football stadium. Fortunately, no untoward incident took place but the scare did intensify high alert already declared in Europe following the deadly serial attacks in Paris last week where more than 129 people were killed and over 300 were left wounded.
Two Paris bound Air France passenger airplanes were diverted in US, while two football games were called off late on Tuesday night in Europe to tackle the bomb threats.
First to be called off was a match between Germany and The Netherlands at Hanover. The German Football Association (DFB) had in the weekend already come close to calling off the match but they went ahead only to call it off when fans started pouring in on Tuesday night. The match in Hanover was meant to be a “symbol of freedom” after the Paris attacks and was to be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Speaking before the match, Joachim Loew, Head Coach of the German national football team, had called Tuesday’s planned match “a clear message and symbol of freedom and a demonstration of compassion, as well as sorrow, for our French friends – not only in France, but throughout the world”.
Before the match, players had been practising the French anthem “La Marseillaise”, which they had been set to sing in a sign of solidarity with the shaken neighbouring nation.
However, the game was called off minutes before it was scheduled to kick-off. Thousands of fans were evacuated, without signs of panic, from Hanover’s HDI Arena Stadium, as hundreds of police, some on horseback, secured the area.
“There had been serious plans to cause an explosion in the 49,000-capacity stadium…. We received a serious indication that a bomb attack was planned inside the stadium tonight,” police chief of the Hanover city, Volker Kluwe told the press following the cancellation of the match.
Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had already arrived at the venue, was quickly ushered out.
In other instance, a friendly game between Belgium and Spain too was cancelled as fear of terror loomed over Europe and authorities were in no mood to take any chances.
Incidentally, the German football team was playing France in Paris last Friday when players and fans were shaken by the blasts of three jihadist suicide bombers outside the Stade de France that echoed through the venue.
Even as the authorities in Europe charted to counter the bomb scare amid public places, two Air France flights bound for Paris from the US were asked to land immediately after a bomb scare. One passenger jet was diverted to Salt Lake City, Utah, after taking off from Los Angeles, while the second left Washington and was diverted to Halifax, Canada. Both the aircrafts — flight 65 out of Los Angeles, and flight 55 out of Dulles International Airport in Virginia near the US capital — were reported to have landed safely.
Though the decision to divert the flights was termed as a “precautionary measure,” it was subject to all “necessary security checks”. According to the French airline authorities, alert was sounded after anonymous threats were received after their respective takeoffs. Local authorities are now carrying out complete inspections of the aircraft, the passengers and their luggage and the source of the telephone call is being investigated.
(With inputs from the PTI/Agencies)