Hundreds of security agents and rescuers armed with antidotes for a toxic gas attack swarmed around the international airport in this Riviera city Sunday after the authorities received a letter threatening a gas attack.
Authorities said the threat to release Zyklon B gas on Sunday morning at the airport was not fully credible, but was not a hoax. It prompted them to carry out a long-delayed plan to hold a readiness exercise to counter a potential nuclear, chemical or gas attack.
“We didn’t have to write the scenario since we used the theme of the letter threat: releasing Zyklon B-type gas in the terminals,” said Philippe Breuil, prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes region.
The letter, signed by a mysterious group decrying globalization, claimed an attack with Zyklon B gas – used in some Nazi death camps during World War II – would be launched between 9 a.m. and noon if air traffic was not shut down.
Planes continued to take off and land, as rescue teams with portable medical units trained for a poison gas attack. The police meticulously checked passengers’ luggage at the two terminals of the Nice-Cote d’Azur airport. Some 350 people took part in the exercise, officials said.
The letter, written in German and signed by a group calling itself the EBG, or European Globalization Liberation Front, claimed that the Zyklon B in a travel bag would be released via a long-distance trigger.
Breuil, the prefect, said the threat was “unlikely,” but could not be dismissed.
“It isn’t a hoax,” he said. “We are faced with serious threats by people who know the product they’re talking about.”
Rescuers said they had 400 doses of an antidote for Zyklon B.
Security officials gave the threat a rating of 2 on a scale of 1 to 5.
Meanwhile, the Paris prosecutor’s office ordered a preliminary investigation into the threat.
Nice is the site of a scheduled NATO summit meeting in February.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, said that no demands for “ransom or material assets” were attached to the threat.
“We are fighting against the exploitation of people and nature by the forms of globalization,” it read, adding that the group had recruited “secret combatants” in other European airports.
The letter said the Nice airport was chosen as its target “because in this southern French metropolis on the Mediterranean, commerce with its inhuman characteristics is especially clear.”