French schools have fallen victim to 299 bomb threats and forced evacuations so far this year, including a record 75 made on Thursday alone, with the government promising to impose heavy punishments on those causing the disruption.
Minister of Education Gabriel Attal told the France 2 broadcaster on Thursday that authorities were dealing with an unprecedented number of bomb threats, which are placing undue stress on educational facilities and putting further pressure on already saturated emergency services.
By Oct. 16 this year, 168 alerts had been recorded since the start of the year, meaning almost half of all bomb threats have been made this week alone.
“We have already arrested several dozen students (responsible for the false alarms). Some are 11, 12, or 14 years old,” Attal told the channel.
A total of 33 bomb threats have been made at Parisian schools this week, particularly in the southeastern Val-de-Marne department, resulting in mass evacuations and several schools switching to distance learning until All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1.
The education minister promised a crackdown on students making false alarms, warning those responsible that the authorities will be given wider powers to provide a greater deterrent.
“At some point, we have to make examples. Fake bomb threat, some say it’s a hoax, some say they wanted to miss a class. But finally, in the current context, you have students and staff for whom it is particularly traumatic,” he said.
The current punishment for calling in a bomb hoax is a custodial sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to €50,000.
The alarming increase in bomb threats across the country hasn’t just been reserved for schools, however. France has been the victim of a number of hoaxes at airports and points of interest over the past week, with several airports being evacuated and flights grounded on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Palace of Versailles was forced to evacuate visitors on Thursday for the fourth time in less than a week for security reasons, while a nuclear research facility was also forced to close its doors.
A total of 18 arrests have been made so far this week — the majority of which were minors — for issuing fake bomb threats, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Thursday.
He told BFM TV that the phenomenon “disorganizes our security services and obviously stops society from functioning,” and warned that the false threats “pose an enormous risk in case of a real problem.”
Darmanin revealed that authorities were using considerable resources to trace the phone numbers and IP addresses of those responsible.
“We tell those listening: We will find everyone,” he warned.