Authorities at Charles de Gaulle airport have stripped several dozen employees - almost all of them Muslims - of their security badges in a crackdown against terrorism, a government official said Friday.
Four baggage handlers who lost their clearance filed a joint discrimination complaint this week, alleging they had been unfairly associated with terrorism because they are Muslims, their lawyers said. Some had been in their jobs for up to five years.
The baggage handlers and other employees have been barred from secure areas at the airport since February, Jacques Lebrot, an official who oversees the airport, told The Associated Press in an interview.
The cases were "linked to terrorism, of course," he said, adding that the crackdown followed recommendations by France's anti-terrorism coordination unit, UCLAT, as part of an 18-month investigation.
"You don't strip people of their badges for small matters," he said. The crackdown was part of heightened security in France, after terror attacks in Britain, Spain and the United States in recent years.
Lebrot, citing security reasons, declined to say whether the "several dozen" people - he would not specify how many - who lost their badges had been involved in specific plots.
"Mr. X or Y could have been suspected because corresponding facts ... suggested he belonged to a sizable network," Lebrot said, without elaborating. Others could have been stripped of the badges because they were "impressionable and manipulated" by such networks, he said.
He declined to comment on the individual complaint filed by the four.
Lawyers and community groups said the baggage handlers, who worked for subcontractors at the airport, were likely to lose their jobs because such work depended on security clearances.
In letters from the regional government office, the employees were told that they presented a "significant danger to airport security," or had shown "personal behavior threatening airport security."
Lawyers for those who lost their badges said that under police questioning, they were never told of the reasons they lost their badges - but repeatedly were asked about their religion.
"The link among these people is that either they are Arab - or practice their religion in a normal way," said Eric Moutet, a lawyer for the four employees suing in administrative court. Authorities, he said, "are in essence asking people to prove they are not terrorists."
Lebrot insisted the employees "know" why they lost their clearance, but refused to discuss specific cases. He said all but two were Muslims but sharply denied that any religious reason was involved.
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Those who lost badges have not been fired, but effectively cannot work without access to secure areas of the airport.
Demographics make France's Charles de Gaulle facility more vulnerable to Islamic extremism, experts say.
Some terrorism experts are asking why the government has not moved faster to suspend access for employees who may constitute a security risk.
An airport rule, created after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, requiring cleaners take a test in English to get a security badge was discriminatory, the Atlanta EEOC office said.