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Operation Sentinelle: Ensuring Public Safety or Creating More Risk?

14 Aug 2017

Operation Sentinelle has been underway in Paris since the implementation of the state of emergency after the Paris attacks in January 2015 which targeted the Charlie Hebdo Offices. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been five targeted terror attacks on security forces in Paris. With the recent increase in targeted attacks on the soldiers themselves, there are questions over whether the operation is still effective, or if it is making it easier for assailants to target valuable assets.

Key Points

  • Five small scale terror attacks targeting security forces have been conducted in Paris this year.
  • There has been a high security presence in Paris due to the ongoing state of emergency, implemented since the Paris attack on the Charlie Hebdo Offices in January 2015.
  • Operation Sentinelle is being reviewed to mitigate against the increase of targeted security forces.

Solace Global Comment

Operation Sentinelle has been underway in Paris since the implementation of the state of emergency after the Paris attacks in January 2015 which targeted the Charlie Hebdo Offices. An estimated 7,500 troops were deployed in France in order to conduct regular and visible patrols. The attacks in November 2015 which targeted the Stade de France, Bataclan theatre and a number of cafés, emphasised the need for such measures. However, with the recent increase in targeted attacks on the soldiers themselves, there are questions over whether the operation is still effective, or if it is making it easier for assailants to target valuable assets. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been five targeted terror attacks on security forces in Paris, and no other significant incidents reported elsewhere in the country.

The Scope of Operation Sentinelle

At the beginning of the operation in 2015, 10,000 soldiers were deployed; however, this has been reduced to around 7,500 since September 2016. Approximately half of these soldiers are stationed in Paris, with the rest at other strategic or tourist locations. A Sentinelle deployment lasts for two months, in which no leave is allowed. The operation has adjusted throughout its duration according to the change in tactics in terror attacks. Initially, soldiers were deployed to key buildings, however after the large-scale Paris attacks in November 2015, more street patrols were introduced. Today, large gatherings are also monitored by security forces, after the attack on the Stade de France as well as the Nice attack in July 2016. The increasing scale of the operation has been met with some criticism by those who do not approve of the pervasive presence of the soldiers. The operation has also proven a burden for the French army, of which half are deployed on this operation. It is estimated the operation costs €400,000 a day to run. It is becoming increasingly argued in Paris that the operation is not effective and is leading to the soldiers being targets of attack themselves.

The Five Attacks on Security Forces This Year

3 February 2017 – An Egyptian national, Abdullah Reda al-Hamamy, on a tourist visa to France, rushed towards soldiers guarding the entrance to the Louvre Museum wielding a machete. The soldiers fired at the assailant who was then critically wounded; no one else was injured in the incident. Visitors to the Louvre were held in secure areas as the site went into lockdown. They were eventually escorted through safe exits after security checks. Investigations uncovered the attacker had sympathies towards the Islamic State.

20 April 2017 – Three French National Police were shot by an assailant wielding an AK-47 along the Champs-Élysées. One officer was killed and two others were injured. One nearby female tourist was also reported to be injured in the attack. The attacker, Karim Cheurfi, was shot dead by police in response. The attack was attributed to the Islamic State.

6 June 2017 – An Algerian doctorate student, Farid Ikken, approached and attacked a police officer outside Notre Dame Cathedral with a hammer. He was also in possession of kitchen knives at the time. The attacker was shot in the chest by another police officer. These two were the only injured in the incident. Nine hundred people were in lockdown in the cathedral for two hours due to the incident. Upon investigation, it was uncovered the attacker had pled allegiance to the Islamic State.

19 June 2017 – The driver of a vehicle containing weapons and explosive substances, rammed into a gendarmerie vehicle on the Champs-Élysées, 200 yards from the presidential palace. The assailant, named as Djaziri Adam Lotfi, was reported to have died as a result of the crash impact. No other persons were killed or injured in the incident.

9 August 2017 – An Algerian resident of France conducted a vehicle attack on soldiers waiting outside an apartment block in the Parisian suburb of Levallois-Perret. Six soldiers were wounded in the vehicle attack with three being in serious conditions. The attacker drove away from the scene, leading to country-wide manhunt for a black BMW. Several hours later, the vehicle and attacker were stopped on the A16 motorway near Boulogne. According to reports, the driver was shot five times during the arrest, and is currently in a hospital in Lille.

Is there a Solution?

According to the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, the soldiers are still a ‘presence that reassures, protects.’ However, as they represent the state, they are a valuable target to potential attackers. There is no easy solution to this problem, and as long as the state of emergency remains in place, a form of Operation Sentinelle is likely to continue. In July 2017, France’s parliament voted to extend the national state of emergency for the sixth time, making it the longest one in France’s history. The current proposal from the government aims to legislate some of the measures which currently fall under the state of emergency. Some of these include, preventing large gatherings in certain public zoned areas, conducting individual surveillance, and temporarily closing places of worship which promote extremism. This proposal has already been widely criticised as an attempt to continue limiting the freedoms for citizens. From President Macron’s perspective however, this is an attempt to end the state of emergency whilst also being able to continue addressing the threat of terror attacks. The solution is to find the balance between effective security measures which counter the threat of terrorism, whilst at the same time ensuring the freedoms of ordinary citizens remain. It is unlikely Operation Sentinelle will be ended soon without the strengthening of counter-terrorism legislation and forces. The withdrawal of soldiers from iconic cities like Paris would portray a message to extremist groups seeking vulnerable targets; there is potential for terror tactics to adjust once again, and return to targeting vulnerable citizens instead of soldiers.



As was highlighted above, a number of these incidents have occurred at tourist locations, such as the Champs-lyse, the Louvre and Notre Dame. As a precaution, travellers should maintain situational awareness when visiting these sites. Avoid standing near congregations of military/police personnel and associated buildings/vehicles which are all high targets at present. Due to the state of emergency, there are frequent bomb scares over unattended bags which can cause significant travel disruptions at airports, train stations and tourist sites. The most recent occurred on 12 August 2017 at Notre Dame Cathedral. If required, follow evacuation or lock down instructions by authorities and remain calm.

Run, hide, and tell, is good initial advice in the event of a terror attack. RUN – If you are in a location where you can hear or see gunfire or explosions, it is recommended to leave the area immediately using the safest route available. Stay near cover as much as possible, keeping low. Avoid using main entrances and exits, or running around blind corners. Encourage others to go with you, however do not delay leaving the area longer than necessary. Leave everything behind so that you are able to move quickly. HIDE – Dependent on circumstances, running away from the area may not be an option. The attack may have escalated quickly into a hostage situation for example. Ideal hiding locations are those which would provide suitable cover from gunfire, such as thick walls. TELL – If able, inform local emergency services, or alert someone else who is able to do that for you. Once assistance arrives, you should follow their instructions accordingly.

Travellers should also consider the options of fight and treat. FIGHT – Only if you are trapped and have no other choice. The aim is to incapacitate the attacker by using physical aggression. If pursuing this action, it is important to commit to the fight, and if others are around, encourage them to join you. TREAT – For potentially fatal wounds, the earlier a victim is treated, increases the likelihood they will survive the incident. The first five minutes have been shown to be critical for casualties with severe injuries like catastrophic bleeds. The most important thing is to first ensure it is safe for you to help.

Solace Global would not advise clients that enhanced security provisions are required when visiting France. Travellers are advised to maintain the same level of situational awareness as they would in any western urban centre at all times, and undertake sensible security provisions while travelling in the country and monitor Solace Secure for intelligence updates.