US police evacuated the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday after deeming a harmless plane participating in a sporting event a threat, a mess that angered powerful congressional leader Nancy Pelosi.
“Evacuate the United States Capitol”: the worrying alert about a potential air threat, issued at around 6:30 p.m., was lifted less than twenty minutes later.
The police, who justified the evacuation by a “concern of precaution”, promised “more information to come”. More than two hours after the initial warning, they had still not provided an official reason.
But a simple and embarrassing communication problem seems to be the cause of the false alarm.
Indeed, the reported threat was actually just US Army paratroopers, dropped from a plane to take part in a pre-game show at the baseball stadium, located less than 2 kilometers from the Capitol.
“The fact that the US Aviation Authority apparently failed to notify Capitol Police of the planned Nationals Stadium overflight is outrageous and inexcusable,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. scathing statement.
“The unnecessary panic caused by this apparent negligence has been particularly damaging to elected officials, staff and institutional employees, still scarred by the trauma of the attack on their workplace on January 6,” she continued, making reference to the storming of the Capitol in early 2021 by supporters of Donald Trump.
Although brief, the alert was immediately shared by the American media, in a country still deeply marked by the memory of the attacks of September 11, 2001 – during which planes piloted by Al-Qaeda pilots crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington.
The number of people in the Capitol grounds on Wednesday was likely limited as the Senate and House of Representatives were not in session.
“We have just had a very stressful quarter of an hour, but we are happy that everyone is safe and sound,” tweeted elected official Teresa Leger Fernandez.
According to CNN reporter Ryan Nobles, who says he was among those evacuated, “for a good 15 minutes, it was pretty crazy.”
“Alarms were loud and intense, and Capitol Police were working hard to get everyone out,” he tweeted.
Two Swiss tourists who were visiting the area around the Capitol explained that they found themselves facing “police officers saying that we had to get away from the building”.
“They closed the security barriers behind us,” one of them told AFP, adding that the agents had not provided an explanation.
The Capitol, a symbol of American democracy, has remained extremely guarded since the intrusion by force, on January 6, 2021, of supporters of Donald Trump who came to denounce the result of the presidential election which brought Democrat Joe Biden to power.