Some panics and a lot of misunderstanding, this Tuesday, at La Défense. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the famous business district of western Paris was evacuated from its thousands of occupants, before being cordoned off then combed by dozens of police and soldiers of the sentinel operation, all mobilized by the hunt for a mysterious armed individual.
It all starts around 9:30 am when a hotelier in the neighborhood warns the police that he thought he saw, near the esplanade, a man carrying a long gun moving towards the Mélia hotel.
Immediately, the alert is given. Access to the neighborhood, a sensitive site considered as a potential terrorist target, is blocked one by one. On the floors of the towers, employees are asked to stay confined to their offices.
Paris La Défense, possibly armed man reported, police evacuate
The same watchword is passed to customers of Cnit and Quatre Temps, the largest shopping center in Ile-de-France, while safety instructions are also given in neighboring schools and colleges, in Nanterre, Puteaux and Courbevoie, where outdoor recreation is canceled.
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“Suddenly, we saw dozens of over-equipped police officers tumbling down the slab around 10 am, blows a restaurant owner from the sector. And in the process, little girls arrived crying saying that they had heard gunshots echoing on the escalators of the RER station. "
This La Défense-Grande Arche RER station, the main access point to the district, was closed to the public for a few hours. The RER no longer stopped there, any more than the T2 tram or the L and U trains of the Transilien.
"It was downright surreal"
Videos posted by users on social networks have even shown a filtering device set up to search passengers, invited to leave one by one, arms in the air and hands clearly visible.
"It was downright surreal," says Mehdi, part of an insurance company. The police carried out security patches when everyone was wondering what was going on. There was no panic, but there was fear on the faces. Especially since no one among the police had any real information to give us. All we were told was not to stay around and leave the area as soon as possible for our own safety… ”
Rumors quickly spread through the business district. And especially around the Place des Corolles where part of the regulars were repelled by the police and the military. "It seems that it is a guy with a dummy weapon who wanted to make a wild shooting in the district", comments Dylan, the nose on his mobile phone.
Faithful to the esplanade and the forecourt, the young man could not reach, as every morning, the Atlantic Tower where he occupies a commercial position: "Passing behind the Cnit, I was greeted by three soldiers who made me empty my bag, he slips down swallowing a coffee. Apparently he was looking for a sporty man with a military backpack. You have to believe that I corresponded to the profile… ”
To the police, the hotel operator at the origin of the alert would indeed have described a man "with athletic build" with a black mask, a backpack and a Kalashnikov-type weapon carried "in the fashion soldiers of the sentinel operation ". A man on whom the police of the operational support group (GSO) could not get their hands despite nearly three hours of meticulous research.
"This is the first time that containment has been implemented at La Défense"
“The doubt removal operation has been completed and at this stage. No suspect was detected by the police on the spot, "said the Paris police headquarters shortly before 1 p.m.
#LaDefense | The prospection of the places ends. The device will be lifted. At this stage, no suspicious individual has been spotted by the police on the spot, corroborating the report made to Police Secours 17. pic.twitter.com/ht8Rgcd63c- Police Prefecture (@prefpolice) June 30, 2020
"We frankly don't need that," says a trader in the neighborhood. Nothing has been spared us in recent years. We were treated to yellow vests, strikes against pensions, confinement, and now the neighborhood which finds itself completely paralyzed after a simple call to 17. To believe that we want to prevent us from working. "
"This is the first time that containment has been implemented in the La Défense district across all shopping centers, office towers and apartment buildings," said Mathieu Duhamel, chief of staff to the prefect of Hauts-de-Seine. However, La Défense's security plan has not been activated. "
"There is a security plan which is regularly tested, during exercises and events which give rise to feedback which allows lessons to be learned," continues Mathieu Duhamel. This reflex containment measure is also directly taken from the 2016 financial year. Feedback has shown the need to have, before the security plan is triggered, a tool that allows to react even faster . This is how this measure appeared. "
The incident this morning will of course also give rise to feedback, to learn from the measures implemented and to judge their effectiveness.