Friday is the launch of Europe’s highly anticipated UEFA Euro Football Championships. This high profile event brings in large amounts of fans and athletes into the country. It is a source of revenue, a staple of European sportsmanship, and unfortunately – a high risk target for terrorism.
France is no stranger to terrorism. The January 2015 attacks at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, as well as the tragic November 2015 Paris bombings and shootings, have demonstrated that violence and domestic attacks are a real and serious issue facing Parisians.
The US Department of State issued a travel warning to American citizens stressing the potential risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe during the duration of Euro 2016. The travel warning highlights tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centres, transportation, and of course the sporting events, as potential targets.1
With the influx of tourists, festivities, and world attention, a mega-event such as Euro 2016 is a prime target for domestic radicals in France. The threat is not being ignored. France has extended its state of emergency to include the period of the tournament, it has deployed nearly 100,000 police officers and soldiers, and is even using sophisticated anti-drone technology to eliminate risks of air attacks.2
This heavy security presence has already proven to be necessary. A few days ago the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) arrested a Frenchman and thwarted a serious terrorist attack planned on France. The unnamed man had been monitored for months and was caught with “Kalashnikov machine-guns, rocket propelled grenades, 125 kilograms of TNT and other weapons.”3 To the surprise of some, the man was not an Islamic radical, but alternatively was an ultra-nationalist protesting France’s immigration policy, the spread of Islam, and globalization.
This adds to the complexity and challenge faced by security forces. It is not enough to simply search for and prevent radicalized Islamic terrorist cells. This thwarted plot demonstrates that threats can come from many sources and perspectives, in this case a radicalized ultra-nationalist. Thankfully the SBU had intelligence and control of this situation, but the possibility for other unknown attacks remains.
Direct threats have already been made by ISIS towards France. The cells responsible for the Paris and Brussels attacks last year had plans to attack Euro 2016. Whether other new plots or threats exist is unknown to the public.
Noel Le Graet, the French Football Federation President, recognizes these challenges. “There was already a concern for the Euros, now it’s obviously a lot higher. We will continue to do everything we can so that security is assured despite all the risks that this entails. I know that everyone is vigilant. Obviously this means that we will now be even more vigilant. But it’s a permanent concern for the federation and the [French] state.”4
Le Graet notes that it’s not the security in the actual stadiums that are of primary concern; he considers those arenas to be secure. It is the risk of attacks in the surrounding streets and public spaces that are the serious threat.
Fortunately, the French are taking no chances. UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently called the level of French security being implemented as “enormous”.5 However an early test of security measures in the French Cup Final proved problematic when sports fans smuggled in firecrackers and smoke bombs.6 Undoubtedly concerns exist over the capability or even feasibility of ensuring public security during the Euros.
The reality of the threat is clear, even with extensive funds, manpower, and technology, security concerns remain present. There is a genuine possibility of a terrorist attack in the near future. We know ISIS and domestic terrorists want to commit more attacks, we know parts of Europe have considerable radicalization, and we know the Euro 2016 poses a major opportunity for terrorists.
ISIS spokesman and leading ideologue Mohammed al Adnani recently urged Muslims in Europe to step up attacks. He said, “The smallest action you carry out in their homelands is better and more favored by us from the biggest of actions in our midst; it is more successful for us and more brutalizing to them…Know that targeting so-called civilians is more beloved to us…more brutalizing and painful to them.” The chilling words remind us that the possibility of terror remains.7
So then, we know France might be attacked again, what do we do?
Security and intelligence are our strongest assets. Increased security, threat monitoring, intelligence gathering, and eyes on the ground are key for preventative measures. The short-term goal must be preparedness. France’s security efforts are promising but it takes more than the government to keep the country safe. The public itself must remain vigilant as well, reporting concerns, noticing abnormalities, and speaking up if they gather any insights. Fans and the public can stay informed and updated by downloading the French government’s new app called SAIP that will alert users of suspected attacks. 8
As daunting, frightening, and real these concerns, one important fact holds true: The games must go on.
As a public, as a civilization, and as a world community, we cannot allow the terrorists to win. We can never let their barbaric practices and threats destabilize our communities and countries. Threats persist, but European courage and strength remains stronger. The French, the Europeans, and indeed the whole world will never cave to these psychopaths and murderers. We will continue our lives, we will fight for human rights, and we will bring justice where justice is due.
In this period of uncertainty and chaos. The world will stand strong with France.
By Daniel Govedar (June 2016)