• ASSOCIATED PRESS

Louvre Museum and Versailles Palace Evacuated after Bomb Threats with France on Alert

AP Photo/Thomas Padilla
Police vehicles are seen as police officers stand guard outside the Louvre Museum as people are evacuated after it received a written threat, in Paris, Saturday Oct. 14, 2023.

PARIS (AP) — The Louvre Museum in Paris and Versailles Palace evacuated visitors and staff Saturday after receiving bomb threats, police said. The French government started deploying 7,000 troops to increase security around the country after a fatal school stabbing by a suspected Islamic extremist.

The evacuations of two of the world’s most-visited tourist sites come amid heightened vigilance around France following Friday’s school attack, and global tensions linked to the war between Israel and Hamas. President Emmanuel Macron’s government is worried about fallout from the war in France.

Alarms rang out through the Louvre when the evacuation was announced, and in the underground shopping center beneath its signature pyramid. Paris police said officers searched the museum after it received written bomb threats. The Louvre communication service said no one was hurt and no bomb was found, so the museum will reopen as usual on Sunday.

The Louvre, home to masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, welcomes between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors per day and several million annually.

The former royal palace at Versailles also received bomb threats, and the palace and its sprawling gardens were being evacuated while police examine the area, according to national police. A major Paris train station, Gare de Lyon, was being evacuated after the discovery of a possible bottle explosive, police said.

Earlier Saturday, Macron’s office announced the mobilization of 7,000 soldiers by Monday night, after the government heightened the national threat alert in the wake of the school attack in the northern city of Arras. The “attack emergency” threat posture allows the government to temporarily deploy extra troops to protect public places, among other measures.

Counterterrorism authorities are investigating the Arras stabbing, and the suspected assailant and several others are in custody, prosecutors said. The attacker’s exact motive remains unclear, and he is reportedly refusing to speak to investigators.

The suspect had been under recent surveillance by intelligence services for Islamic radicalization. He was detained Thursday for questioning based on his phone conversations in recent days, but investigators found no sign that he was preparing an attack, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. He said French intelligence suggested a link between the war in the Middle East and the suspect’s decision to act.

Court documents viewed by The Associated Press show the suspect, identified by prosecutors as Mohammed M., is from the Ingushetia region in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains, which neighbors Chechnya.

Some schoolchildren, parents and personnel returned to the Gambetta-Carnot school Saturday, as police stood guard outside. Classes were canceled, but the school reopened for those who wanted to come together or seek support.

Trauma specialists described the importance of addressing the emotions and revisiting the scene soon after horrific events. One mother said she came with her 17-year-old daughter in a show of defiance against extremism, and to overcome the fear of returning to a site where children were locked down for hours after the stabbing.

Another mother came to seek guidance from counselors about how to support her two sons, who witnessed the attack in their schoolyard.

“As adults, we are managing with difficulty to take a step back, but for them, they’re children,″ said Emily Noge, arriving at the school with her sons and partner.

’’It’s always the same moments that come back: The schoolyard, the chairs to protect themselves, the stabbings, the whys. ’Why us? Why Arras? Why the teachers? They were good teachers. They were there to protect us,‴ she said.

For many, the attack echoed the killing of another teacher, Samuel Paty, almost exactly three years ago near his Paris area school. He was beheaded by a radicalized Chechen later killed by police.

All French middle schools and high schools will open later Monday so that staff can talk about the attack, and prepare to reassure students and address what happened, the Education Ministry announced. Each establishment will hold a minute of silence to reflect and honor victims of all attacks targeting schools.

Macron urged the people of France to “stay united.”