Sabotage Again Suspected As More European Internet Cables Cut

Underwater cables on the ocean floor in the Mediterranean Sea.
Getty Images

Two European fibre optic cables have been severed in the last week, fuelling speculation of possible sabotage with both phone networks and internet traffic disrupted.

The first incident took place in the North Sea last week and saw an underwater fibre optic cable cut, shutting off the internet and mobile phone networking to the Shetland Islands, the northernmost islands of the United Kingdom for an entire night.

The incident affected the SHEFA2 submarine fibre optic cable, which was deployed in 2007 and connects the Shetlands, the Orkney Islands as well as the Faroe Islands, to mainland Scotland. Another cable connecting the Shetlands and the Faroe Islands had also been damaged the week prior, an incident which was blamed on a fishing ship.

According to a report from French broadcaster BFMTV, a second fibre optic cable severing incident was reported by the security firm Zscaler, which claimed that damage had been detected at a fibre optic hub in Aix-en-Provence, near Marseille last week.

The security network claimed that three lines of the hub had been severed linking Marseille and Lyon, Marseille and Milan as well as Marseille and Barcelona, affecting internet access in Europe as well as Asia and the United States.

Zscaler commented on the incident on Twitter, stating, “Zscaler has discovered that a subsea Internet cable was severed in the south of France in an apparent act of vandalism.”

Misha Kuperman, senior vice president of global cloud operations at Zscaler has also claimed that French telecom operators have also privately concurred with the idea that the incident was the result of sabotage.

The sabotage of fibre optic cables and other telecommunications infrastructure is not a unique occurrence in France, with a similar incident taking place earlier this year in April that saw fibre optic cables between Paris and Lyon and Paris and Strasbourg cut.

“The fact remains that the characteristics and circumstances of this particularly serious and very rare incident make it difficult [to blame is on being] an accidental break. Several operators using the same [methods] vandalized infrastructures are involved,” French Internet Service Provider (ISP) Netalis said.

The head of Netalis, Nicolas Guillaume, added that the attack on the cables was likely done by those familiar with the network and was probably coordinated.

While the scale and complexity of the data networks which underpin modern civilisation make finding and repairing sabotage time-consuming and difficult, new technology means pinpointing outages, and even detecting trespassers before damage occurs, is possible.

Dr Ed Austin, engineer and founder of Focus Sensors, who has pioneered technology to use optical fibres to monitor nearby infrastructure, told Breitbart that “Sabotage and cable theft has far-reaching consequences for digital connectivity, energy security and transport.”

Nevertheless, he said, help was at hand because new technology meant fibre optic cables could be more than passive conductors of data, but could sense interference as well, attacks could be detected and rectified much quicker. Dr Austin said: “Our technology turns existing optical fibres into thousands of virtual seismic sensors, which we use to locate sabotage and cable theft events with sub-meter accuracy, accelerating response times and minimising time for repairs. After an event has happened, data we captured provides a tool for forensic analysis of activities in the hours and minutes leading up to the event, which is evidence that can be used to identify perpetrators.”

While no groups or individuals took credit at the time for the alleged multi-location fibre optic cable sabotage in France, far-left and anarchist extremists have either been suspected of or have taken credit for sabotaging telecommunications infrastructure in recent years.

An alleged act of sabotage in 2020 in the Ile-de-France region which contains Paris saw 50,000 people go without internet connectivity after telephone and communications cables were cut. In the weeks prior to the incident, around 20 other acts of sabotage of telecommunications infrastructure were recorded by the Central Territorial Intelligence Service (SCRT).

The SCRT suspected that far-left extremists were behind the wave of sabotage noting that the infrastructure targetted were “historic targets of the ultra-left movement.”

A year later, French far-left extremists took credit for arson attacks on telecommunications infrastructure in the communes of Brézins and Sassenage, which destroyed fibre optic cables as well as a fibre optic communications tower.

Extremists took credit for the attacks saying, “it is not to protest against 5G in particular but in a broader context, fighting against the techno-world… We want to salute all the arsonists who are acting in the shadows at the moment and repeatedly beating this technological hell.”

The possible sabotage of the fibre optic cables also comes just weeks after backhaul communications fibre optic cables belonging to the German Railway company Deutsche Bahn were “willfully and intentionally severed” simultaneously, causing rail traffic to grind to a total halt for hours.

Green Party MP Anton Hofreiter theorized that the action may have been linked to a state actor saying, “To pull this off, you have to have very precise knowledge of the railway’s radio system. The question is whether we are dealing with sabotage by foreign powers,” and claiming it may have been a “warning” from Russia.

The German police, however, stated that they suspected a possible political motive for the sabotage but did not label the act terrorism or put blame on any foreign state.

Russia has, however, been floated as a possible suspect by some in connection with the alleged sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipelines that took place late last month, although only Ukraine has explicitly blamed the Russians for the explosions which damaged the pipelines.

An investigation into the sabotage of the pipelines by Swedish and Danish authorities has so far only concluded that the damage was the result of explosions and that the incidents were likely deliberate sabotage but neither country has assigned blame to any state, activist group or other parties.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)



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