France is gearing up security for the Cannes film festival set to kick off this week with bomb sweeps, hundreds of extra police and the help of a former Israeli general, as the country faces its highest-ever terror threat.
The 69th Cannes Film Festival comes six months after Islamic State jihadists launched coordinated attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead, and France remains under a state of emergency.
“We must keep in mind as we prepare to open this festival that we are faced with a risk which has never been as high, and faced with an enemy determined to strike us at any moment,” said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
“We must demonstrate extreme vigilance at all times.”
Cazeneuve, who visited the city two days before it becomes the world movie capital for the two-week cinematic extravaganza, said the stakes were high for security forces.
Last month, the French Interior Ministry and the City of Cannes held a simulated terror attack on the famed Palais des Festivals theater to test the city’s bolstered security measures.
A video of the exercise, which featured masked gunmen with machine guns storming the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès and car bomb attack on a local school, played repeatedly on French television and was widely circulated online.
In November, Cannes Mayor David Lisnard commissioned a security audit from international security experts to help local authorities and emergency response teams prepare for a possible “multi-terror event.” The audit was carried out in December.
According to Variety magazine, quoting a spokesman for the Alpes-Maritimes district headquarters which has jurisdiction over Cannes and Nice, security expert and IDF Brig. Gen. (res) Nitzan Nuriel was in charge of the joint team; the city did not confirm this.
The Hollywood Reporter claimed that Nuriel is also in charge of security for the 10-day event, as bomb experts will carry out daily sweeps throughout the city and as 200 armed police officers, an unknown number of undercover officers, and 500 security cameras are in place to protect the estimated 200,000 festival attendees. The City of Cannes, however, refuted that claim, saying Nuriel is not involved whatsoever and that security preparations are under the exclusive authority of the Interior Ministry.
The Hollywood reporter quoted Nuriel, the former head of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, as saying: “You have to be prepared for what we consider a multi-terror event, not only in one place and not only in one hour — in a few places over a few hours.”
“The most important thing is to make sure that we have the know-how, the capability, and are fully trained to take the responsibility if something should happen,” Nuriel said
“Security is not only a slogan, it’s something you can feel,” Nuriel added.
Festival president Pierre Lescure has said that this year “the maximum” has been done to balance security and ensure “that the festival remains a place of freedom.”
Cazeneuve said the city had to take into account “the global nature of the event, its visibility, the high number of celebrities who must be protected, the concentration of crowds in public spaces, without forgetting the need to preserve the atmosphere of conviviality which is crucial to the success of the festival.”
Lisnard dismissed concerns that the tight security will throw a wet blanket over the parties, glitter and glamour of the event.
“Do you think an attack brings merriment? We have succeeded in preserving the festival atmosphere. The public will be at the foot of the (red-carpeted) steps. All the parties will be authorized, but security must be taken care of,” he told AFP.
“Cannes must be protected not because of the cocktail parties, but because it is a professional event of a high level which brings honor to France.”