Amongst the major diplomatic missions in Paris, the Indian Embassy is perhaps the least protected and most vulnerable.
It is impossible to enter the Chinese, American, British, Canadian or other major agencies at the push of a button. The Russian mission is a veritable bunker on the very south western edge of Paris. Even embassies of countires from Latin America or Africa like Argentina, Brazil, Peru Nigeria, South Africa or other emerging nations that face no obvious terrorist threat are better protected. The embassy of Israel is another matter altogether – the entire street is blockaded with a round-the-clock police presence in addition to Mossad’s own security. The French elite Garde Republicaine protects the US mission.
None of that for India. There isn’t even a guard at the door. Push a button and say your name on the interphone and the receptionist opens the outer door for you and then its easy as pie – you just walk in, no metal detectors, no scanner, no demand for a photo ID, no shatter-proof glass. In most embassies there is a system of locking double doors that allow the passage of a single person at a time and each floor is independently secured. Anyone could walk up to the ambassador’s office in the blink of an eyelid at the Indian mission in Paris.
The Indian mission in France has increasingly become a prime terrorist target here, according to intelligence specialists commenting on the activities of jihadist terrorists who have received training and indoctrination in camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The perceived threat has become real since the confessions of terrorist Mohamed Merah, who last March killed seven persons in cold blood including three children in the south western city of Toulouse.
Police recently arrested 12 persons for planning terrorist attacks and confiscated an alarming amount of cash, arms and ammunition. The arrests were made in cities as far flung as Strasbourg, Cannes, Toulouse and the Paris region. One person was killed in an exchange of fire when he repeatedly shot at officers trying to arrest him, preferring martyrdom to arrest.
Intelligence sources say scores of young men described as belonging to the “fundamentalist salafist movement”, all of them born and brought up in France, have made their way to terrorist training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan where they have been indoctrinated. Indian interests alongside Jewish and French state institutions feature amongst the targets they have been specifically instructed to attack.
“We take these threats extremely seriously and we are in constant touch with the French security services,” Rakesh Sood, India’s Ambassador to France, told The Hindu. “A security team from the Ministry of External Affairs visited Paris in May, after the Merah incident and after his intention to target the Embassy became known. The team conducted a full security audit of the embassy and we are now fast-tracking security measures.”
But since the visit of the MEA security team last May, nothing has moved forward. Security remains as lax as ever.
“I do not think the Indian government understands the new threat posed by “home grown” terrorists who are remote controlled by terror groups in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The Indian government has always seen terrorism as something coming from neighbouring Pakistan or Bangladesh, not from France. This threat is new and it is real. Many of these terrorists have criminal backgrounds and violence is banal. So this is a very frightening scenario and the Indian government should take it very seriously,” Matthieu Guidere, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toulouse and a specialist in “new terrorism” told The Hindu in an exclusive interview.
“I feel nervous going to work everyday. Thee are so many crazy, indoctrinated, fundamentalist persons around. And honestly, I do not feel safe at work. We are very exposed. If I could find another job I would not mind leaving,” a member of the Embassy’s local staff told this correspondent.
Security comes at a cost. Shatter proof glass, metal detectors and specialised personnel are expensive. The Indian Embassy is a classified building and any modifications to the outer façade will have to be cleared by the French Ministry of Culture. The entire embassy will have to be reorganised with enhanced security in mind. New Delhi tends to throw the financial rule book at the mission in Paris. But the urgent need is security, not parsimony.