Paris: The Eiffel Tower was shut to all visitors on Sunday after three “terrorist suspects” with “large rucksacks” were seen ascending France’s most popular tourist attraction.
Anti-terrorist police supported by a helicopter could be seen at the iconic landmark following the alarm being raised in the early hours.
But after a search which went on all morning it was thought they escaped via parachute – prompting a theory that they had been extreme sportsmen all along.
“There were reports of three people climbing the tower from the outside from about 5.30 a.m.,” said a police source.
“They were said to have large rucksacks so no chances could be taken. They completely disappeared, so enquiries are centred on them being extreme parachutists.
“There were, of course, fears that they may have left dangerous material on the tower before leaving.”
According to Daily Mail online, the tower has frequently been threatened by terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and IS, with security stepped up since attacks by three radical Islamist gunmen in the city in January.
A police cordon was formed around the tower and people were moved to the banks of the nearby River Seine.
There have been numerous bomb alerts at the Eiffel Tower in recent years, and France is currently on the highest state vigilance alert.
The 1,050 ft-tall iron lattice tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair, and soon turned into a prestige symbol of modern France.
It is the most visited paid-for monument in the world, with some seven-million people a year going up it.
The European Union is reportedly contemplating designating the leader of Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) a terrorist.
The EU’s decision comes nearly a week after a push by France and India to declare JeM leader Masood Azhar a terrorist and freeze his assets.
JeM is already a U.S.- and U.N.-designated terror group.
Focus on Kashmir
Azhar is an Islamist extremist who wants to end Indian control of a portion of the disputed Kashmir area and merge it with Pakistan. He was born in 1968 in Pakistan’s Punjab province in a Deobandi (Sunni sect) Muslim family.
He reportedly received his early education in Bahawalpur, Punjab, and later enrolled in Jamia-ul-Uloom, an Islamic seminary in Karachi, where he became a teacher.
Azhar founded Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2000 and maintained his affiliation with several terror groups, including al-Qaida, Hurkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA), all U.S.-designated terror groups.
JeM is believed to be based in the Peshawar region of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
Azhar received his militant training in Afghanistan in the 1980s and fought Soviet troops there.
Spurred by jihad decree
Azhar reportedly traveled to Afghanistan in 1988 with his brother, Ibrahim Azhar, who according to analysts played a key role in shaping Masood’s religious ideology.
“Azhar himself mentioned in one of the articles that his inclination towards jihad started when Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, head of the Karachi Jamia-ul-Uloom at that time, issued an Islamic decree for students to go and participate in Afghan jihad,” Mujahid Hussain, an author and expert on terror outfits, told VOA.
It was during his time in Afghanistan that Azhar developed a relationship with al-Qaida and its leadership, and later worked closely with the terror group.
Azhar traveled to several countries, including Britain, Saudi Arabia, Zambia, India and Bangladesh, to raise funds and recruit youth toward jihad.
He has written over 20 books on Islamic history and the importance of jihad.
Location a mystery
Azhar’s current whereabouts are unknown. Some experts in Pakistan believe he is living in Bahawalpur, a city in southern Punjab.