Eiffel Tower shut after suspicious person seen scaling monument

Eiffel Tower shut after suspicious person seen scaling monument

Anti-terror unit, helicopter dispatched to site but search turns up nothing; landmark reopened in early afternoon

French soldiers patrol in front of the Eiffel Tower on January 8, 2015 (AFP/BERTRAND GUAY)
French soldiers patrol in front of the Eiffel Tower on January 8, 2015 (AFP/BERTRAND GUAY)

The Eiffel Tower was shut to visitors Sunday morning after a suspicious person carrying a backpack was spotted scaling one of the world’s most iconic monuments.

Anti-terror units were deployed to the scene, accompanied by a helicopter to search the landmark.

“An individual with a backpack was seen at the structure. To remove any doubt, a helicopter was dispatched for a more thorough search of the site,” a person close to the investigation told AFP on Sunday.

The suspect was seen at around 9:00 a.m. local time, an hour before the site regularly receives visitors, according to police.

The landmark reopened after more than four hours, but the suspect was not caught and his whereabouts were still unknown.

There was speculation in the French media that the person in question may have been a parachutist seeking to jump from the 324-meter monument as part of an “extreme sport” act.

“It’s happened before,” said a police source. “The parachutist hides his kit the night before, and then gets into the tower and jumps off, while filming.” In 2005, a Norwegian tourist died while attempting the same jump.

The Eiffel Tower has often been threatened by terror groups, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Both have called for the site to be targeted.

Paris has been on its highest terror alert since a horrific, three-day jihadist attack in the French capital killed 17 people between January 7 and 9.

On January 7, two French-born brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, claiming to act on behalf of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, gunned down a core staff of 11 people at the Paris headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on the first day of the attack, escaping the scene. A policeman was also shot dead outside the building.

A day later, a policewoman was gunned down by Amedy Coulibaly, also a French-born terrorist who worked in cooperation with the Kouachi brothers and who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. On January 9, Coulibaly killed four Jewish men at a kosher supermarket in Paris before taking dozens of shoppers hostage.

The Kouachi brothers meanwhile, took over a printing shop and began a standoff with security forces. The three jihadists were eventually killed by police.

In June, a French Islamist of North African descent beheaded his boss, hung the severed head on a fence, and rammed his van into the US-owned Air Products chemical factory in Lyon, causing a small-scale explosion that injured two people. Yassin Salhi, 35, was charged with murder and attempted murder linked to terrorism.

That attack came on a same day as two other terror attacks — one on a Tunisian beach resort that claimed the lives of 39 people, mostly British tourists, and another at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait which killed 27.

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