French police spotted at least five drones flying in the early hours yesterday in the sky near the Eiffel Tower, the US embassy and other sites in Paris in a second night of mysterious appearances in the city by the remote-controlled aerial devices.
The sightings have raised fears in the French capital, still on top security alert after Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in a series of attacks in January. Twelve people were killed in an attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and five were killed during a siege at a kosher supermarket. All three gunmen were also killed by French police.
The drones were spotted in the early hours near the US embassy, which is on the same street as the Elysée Palace – the official resident of French president François Hollande – near the Invalides military museum, around the Eiffel Tower and over several major thoroughfares.
The drones were seen between midnight and 6am. They were also spotted over Place de la Concorde, the grand square that lies at the end of the Champs Elysées, and over several thoroughfares leading into the city from the périphérique, or inner ring road.
The drones were flying at altitudes of between 100 and 300 metres. Police on the ground followed the drones but lost sight of them and were unable to determine who was piloting them, a source said.
“It could be a co-ordinated action but we cannot say that for certain at the moment. We did all we could to try to catch the operators but they weren’t found,” a police source said.
Paris police had already been trying to find out who was behind the appearance of an estimated five separate drone flights over a similar area the previous night and believe the flights could be linked. Such flights are banned in the skies over the French capital.
Last month a drone flew over the Elysée Palace, and drones were also spotted flying over more than a dozen nuclear sites in France last October.
All the drones spotted were described as standard, small models of pilotless aircraft available commercially, which police say are too light to cause significant damage if crashed into a building, even a nuclear power plant.
But the sightings have raised public fears terrorists could find a way to attach explosives or toxic chemicals to the drones.
Police are unclear as to whether the drones, which can transmit high-quality aerial film, are being used maliciously or as a prank by enthusiasts.
Authorities are also concerned a member of the public could be seriously injured if a drone breaks down and falls to earth. Operating a drone illegally in France carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a €75,000 fine.