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On Thursday, 2 November at 8:20 pm, four men used a chemical agent to attack as many as 40 tourists (the French press said 80) from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the Kyriad Hotel in Fresnes, France, says the South China Morning Post. This was in the Val-de-Marne Department, immediately south of Paris, and just north of Orly Airport. In technical terms, this attack was a raid.
As the tourists returned from a shopping trip, the assailants ran into a parking lot used by the hotel and physically assaulted the group’s tour guide. They then sprayed the tourists with tear gas and robbed them as they collapsed from the toxic fumes. The attackers absconded with as many as nine shopping bags filled with luxury goods. The affected tourists were “in a panic” for about an hour and recovered inside the hotel, according to a hotel receptionist that spoke to Le Parisian.
Hotel personnel quoted by Le Parisian said the parking lot in question belonged to the shopping center directly next to the hotel, the Supermarche Casino, but that the hotel used it for tour bus pickups and drop offs as a matter of habit and convenience. It is approximately 60 feet from the hotel entrance.
Le Parisian referred to the gas as “gaz lacrymogène,” which in English means lacrimator (also spelled lachrymator.) Lacrimator agents are non-lethal chemical agents such as CS tear gas, mace, and other such compounds commonly used for riot control and self-defense. In exceedingly high doses, they can be lethal, but this is uncommon. These chemicals are designed to cause choking, coughing, eye irritation, blurred vision, vomiting, excessive mucus production, stinging ears, skin irritation/burning, and dizziness.
Police and hospitality professionals in France believe that criminal gangs like the one that attacked the Kyriad Hotel guests specifically target Chinese tourists at certain times of the year, specifically from fall through December when PRC citizens make up 20-30% of hotel customers. Additionally, police say, the Paris suburbs are popular with Chinese tourists looking for hotel bargains on the outskirts the city, and they are typically flush with cash and shopping goods.
The police in the Val-de-Marne Department assert, “[This problem] is watched and followed. There is a special sensitivity,” meaning they are aware of the issue and are applying countermeasures, and they want Chinese tourists to be safe. But the police also say, “It’s complicated to fight against these lightning attacks.”
There have been scores of other attacks on Chinese tourists and students in France, including simple assaults, vehicular assaults, and the more brazen August 2016 attack in Aubervilliers (northern suburb of Paris) where six men armed with tear gas stormed a bus of 27 Chinese tourists as they prepared to go to the airport to return to China.
The Local interviewed staff at an unnamed hotel in Le Blanc-Mesnil, a suburb northeast of Paris (next to Paris Airport-Le Bourget,) who said their hotel had frequently been hit by criminal gangs targeting Chinese tourists, and that sometimes, the gangs were disguised as police. To combat this gang’s mobile hit and run tactics, hotel security closed off the entry and exit driveway linking the hotel and the main street, and they had police stationed at the hotel when groups of Chinese tourists came and went from the hotel. These measures have not completely stopped the attacks, however.
There are six takeaways here. First, the raid tactics used at the Kyriad Hotel were effective. The gang descended on its target with speed and surprise, it effectively incapacitated all its victims, and both the robbery and egress were successful. The attack was well planned, and most likely rehearsed.
Second, the attackers obviously had intelligence on their victims’ schedule, and they also knew the urban terrain of their target area. This intelligence mostly likely came from careful surveillance of the hotel, its guests, tourist bus pickup and drop off procedures, and local trafficability for escape route planning. This also means the criminal gang in question is experienced and professional.
Third, using tear gas as an assault weapon was highly effective. The victims were completely incapacitated, traumatized, and offered little, if any, resistance. Additionally, the shock value of tear gas appears to have caused hotel security, staff, and first responders to focus on attending the distressed hotel guests and their gas-induced symptoms rather than identifying and chasing the attackers.
Fourth, while the French police are on the case, and while they fully understand the value of Chinese tourism (and tourism in general,) the statements asserting the complexity of fighting these attacks are less than reassuring. It is true that sophisticated tourist attack gangs such as these are hard to stop, but if they continue, the potential for serious injury, or worse, will increase, and the already terrorist-damaged French tourist economy will further suffer. The police assert that the pattern of attacks against Chinese tourists is obvious, so countermeasures such as added police in the affected areas and counter surveillance teams deployed to spot criminal reconnaissance elements are necessary.
Fifth, Paris area hotels should increase security, not only on their properties, but also on adjacent properties used as a matter of habit/convenience such as the parking lot of the Supermarche Casino. This is important because, as hotels borrow the properties and/or services of adjoining businesses, if their guests suffer an attack in these spaces, then the hotels are at least partially responsible for what happens there.
As an aside, coordinating hotel security with adjacently used properties would serve as a security force multiplier and increase guest/shopper safety.
Sixth, because there have been at least two tear gas attacks on tourists in the greater Paris area, then hotels should take security, insurance, and legal measures to counter such weaponry. Consulting chemical weapons specialists, specifically regarding protection and medical treatment, is imperative.
Looking ahead, Islamist jihadist terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS – which are proven learning organizations – might well recognize the value of attacks like these and seek to duplicate them by using lacrimator agents or even lethal chemical agents at hotels and on tourists.
Sources and further reading:
“How ruthless French robbers have ruined ‘romantic’ Paris for the Chinese,” The Local, 9 November 2017.
“Chinese tourists robbed in Paris hotel car park by four attackers armed with tear gas,” South China Morning Post, 5 November 2017.
“Les victimes ont reçu du gaz lacrymogène et ont été dépouillées en arrivant devant leur hôtel à Fresnes,” Le Parisian, 3 November 2017.
“Tear gas attack on 27 Chinese tourists in Paris, robbed by gang aboard airport bus,” South China Morning Post, 3 August 2016.
“Tear gases and irritant incapacitants. 1-chloroacetophenone, 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile and dibenz[b,f]-1,4-oxazepine,” National Institute of Health.
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