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French police address fear factor ahead of the Olympic Games after a deadly attack near Eiffel Tower

A French policeman patrols near the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) A French policeman patrols near the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
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PARIS -

The bar was already high, but the security challenge ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games only grew with a knife attack last weekend that killed a tourist near the Eiffel Tower. Still, the assault at the hand of a suspected Islamic radical, a kind of invisible enemy, left law enforcement undaunted.

The attack quickly raised concern in France and abroad about security for the Games that begin July 26 -- in just over seven months. But law enforcement officials appear eager to push back the fear factor and show off a security-ready Paris.

"We are trying to make the invisible risk visible," said Bernard Bobrowska, inspector general of local police for the French capital. "We are ready."

Police evaded questions about possible terror attacks from an Associated Press team following a patrol at the Eiffel Tower on Thursday, insisting that all systems will be "go" for the Olympics. But Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said after the attack that about a third of suspected radicals under surveillance have psychiatric issues, like the assailant, who had undergone psychiatric treatment.

Hundreds of police already patrol day and night around the Eiffel Tower, which overlooks the Seine River, where an extravaganza will unfold to open the Games. That high-security zone includes the surrounding sector, where a German-Filipino tourist was killed Saturday night. The suspect, Arnaud Rajabpour-Miyandoab, 26, was taken down with two taser shots after injuring two more people with a hammer, and arrested.

The former director general of the national police, Frederic Pechenard, expressed concern over Olympic security after the knife attack, calling for "an eventual Plan B," flatly rejected by Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera. However, she said there could be "adjustments."

Safety worries extend beyond France. The Dutch government upgraded its travel advisory Friday. "Throughout France, and especially in Paris, be aware of possible new violent attacks," authorities warned.

Security is at a maximum with a "zero delinquency" plan in place around Olympic sites, which include the Eiffel Tower and the Seine, according to officials.

Delinquency, which takes in everything from sidewalk sales of trinkets to organized crime and terrorism, has fallen by 30 per cent in recent months in the sector around the Eiffel Tower, with police carrying out 2,500 operations since the start of the year, Bobrowska said.

"All risks, including the terrorist risk, have been taken into account," he said. District police, riot police and officers in civilian clothes patrol the sector to create a "mesh of police of all types at all moments," a dissuasive presence ready for action, he said. Officers from other European countries, who visit the French capital regularly, are foreseen as reinforcements for the Games.

People "often see the glass as half-empty," but security is in a "positive dynamic" with the decline in delinquency, Bobrowska insisted.

For law enforcement, apparently nothing is too minor, even a bundle of little aluminum statues of the Eiffel Tower sold mainly to tourists. Organized crime gangs are sometimes behind those selling the trinkets. Last year, police uncovered 10 tons of trinkets in a warehouse in Saint Denis, north of Paris where the Olympic village will be located. Fifteen people were arrested.

Anyone preying on tourists is on the police radar, from small-time offenders like those offering sidewalk betting games using sleight of hand tricks to high-end thieves. Last year, police dismantled a gang based in Naples, Italy, that specialized in stealing high-end watches that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They would arrive in Paris with motorcyles inside vans. Sometimes, "they would come for a single watch," Bobrowska said.

Still, crimes keep happening. A Mexican tourist was allegedly gang raped over the summer in the Champs de Mars field at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. In October, a British tourist was allegedly raped there, Le Parisien newspaper reported. That suspect was quickly caught.

Did the deadly knife attack give police officers -- who patrol in bullet-proof vests -- pause?

"We don't reflect on things when in action ... ask ourselves existential questions," said Cyril Lacombe, police chief for Paris' 7th district, where the Eiffel Tower is located. He was among police officers at the Bataclan in 2015 when Islamist extremists invaded the music hall and shot up cafe terraces, killing 130 people. "We ask them afterwards."

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Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.

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