Suspicion of terrorism stalks the streets in Europe WAR IN THE GULF

January 20, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Paris Bureau of The Sun

PARIS -- Raymond Derrien is taking a closer look at customers in his swank shoe store on the Champs Elysees these days. Have they been there before? What are they carrying? That bag, is it big enough for a bomb? Better leave it in the lobby.

Mr. Derrien's fears and reflexes are familiar, reminiscent of the last wave of terrorist attacks that turned the world's most famous boulevard into a skittish ghost town four years ago.

"We all share this same memory," Mr. Derrien said yesterday, and rapped on a nearby chair. "Knock wood, so far nothing's happened."

Threats of terrorist reprisals against the United States and its partners in the coalition against Iraq have multiplied since the war began last week. In the United States, which has been spared terrorist bombings and other attacks on its own soil until now, the threat remains abstract for many.

But here, it stirs grim memories of the waves of Palestinian and Iranian-related explosions in the spring and fall of 1986. In September 1986 alone, 153 people were injured and 11 killed from terrorist bombings in Paris. Several of those bombings occurred on the Champs Elysees.

Now, it is back to staying home, to opening purses for inspection before entering stores and movie houses and to keeping an eye out for packages that seem to have been abandoned. Garbage cans and ashtrays are emptied as soon as they are used. Some confess to a fleeting fear when they see Arabs or North Africans.

Airlines, trains, hotels and theaters are reporting record cancellations. Actors who normally play to packed houses are adjusting to cozier performances.

"Mine is one of the two shows in town where the houses are still full," boasted Michel Bouzenah, a popular comedian making his classical debut in Moliere's "Don Juan" at the Trocadero. "That must say something about the people who like me."

The streets of the Champs Elysees, normally packed with French moviegoers, shoppers and foreign tourists on a Saturday, seemed eerily easy to navigate yesterday. No lines to speak of at movie houses. No waiting for a salesman. None of the bustle so familiar to the wide street.

"Since the beginning of the week, you can see that people are much more fearful. They don't speak very much. They're not relaxed," Mr. Derrien said. His customers include French political leaders and public figures, as well as African workers who scrimp for the perfectly impressive pair of shoes to take home when they leave France, Mr. Derrien said.

The Gare du Nord, the northern train station, has had four bomb scares since Thursday, and bomb specialists say they have not stopped running from one bomb alert to another this week.

The scare is not just in France. Germany also conducted several raids and arrests at Arab homes in Berlin and Bad Godesberg last week, in what security officials called preventive measures. Yesterday, France, Greece and Belgium announced the expulsion of Iraqi diplomats from their capitals amid fears that the embassies could be used to store explosives or as bases for terrorist networks.

In Germany, anti-war activists have broken windows at the U.S. cultural center in Berlin, tried to block entrances to U.S. military installations and threatened other American facilities.

Schools for the children of American troops based in Germany, about one-third of whom are serving in the gulf now, have been closed for fear of attack, while the American Forces Network in Germany has warned U.S. citizens to avoid downtown Berlin and keep a low profile.

Ironically, the French find some comfort in Americans and British sharing the terrorist risk. "The last time, it was only us who were targeted. And it seemed like every day brought another attack," said Patrick, an accountant who preferred not to give his last name.

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