We continue to assess that there will be a severe threat of terrorism across France during the UEFA Euro 2016 football championship, which runs from 10 June to 10 July. In our monitoring of jihadist media and closed forums, we have not seen any direct mentions of the tournament. But the available information indicates that there are multiple threat actors currently intent on mounting attacks in France. According to the General Directorate for Internal Security, Islamic State (IS) is ‘first and foremost’ of the groups that pose a threat.
Several foreign governments have issued travel advisories for France to warn of the threat of terrorism specifically at and around the Euro 2016 tournament. This includes the US and UK. Based on these advisories and comments from the respective governments, it appears that they are not based on specific threat information. But as we assessed in April in our previous report on the Euros, IS has repeatedly singled out France for vitriol and threats. And the numbers of plots, attacks and casualties have been higher in France compared with other European countries. See B-25-04-16-FR for that earlier threat assessment.
In a parliamentary committee meeting last month, Patrick Calvar, the head of France’s internal security directorate, said that ‘we know Daesh (IS) is planning attacks’ and that ‘the question on the threat is not whether but when and where [there will be an attempted attack]’. Although he was not referring specifically to Euro 2016, but instead to the general threat in France at the moment.
Calvar warned that terrorists may change tactics from those used in attacks in France last year. These involved suicide bombers and roaming gunmen. Instead, he detailed ‘a new form of attack…characterised by the leaving of explosives in places where a large crowd has gathered. This type of action is repeated to create an atmosphere of panic’. These are similar tactics to those employed in bombings at the marathon in Boston, US, in 2013.
However, he said that there are two problems for people trying to mount such an attack, which make it harder to carry out than a shooting. First, they must have the technical capability to build explosive devices. Second, they must be able to form a network inside France for them ‘to benefit from the logistics’. He suggested that mounting a shooting would be easier, given the relative ease with which people can obtain automatic rifles in much of Europe.
A form of attack that is probably harder for the security services to detect in the planning phase than bombings and shootings is stabbings. There were two such incidents in southern Germany in May, in London last December, and frequently in Israel. Both IS and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have in recent weeks called on their supporters to use knives. In an article titled ‘O Knife Revolution’ in its Inspire magazine released last month, AQAP said that people should use knives to target ‘disbelievers and Jews’ in the West. A week earlier, a pro-IS media group released a video promoting the use of knives.
The French authorities have announced some details about security measures for the tournament. These include cancelling leave to increase deployments of police and gendarmerie at tournament locations, city centres, transport hubs and at border crossings. Several officials cited in the French press have said that securing official Euro 2016 sites such as stadiums is a priority. They had conceded that this will leave other softer targets more vulnerable. As we assessed in our previous report on the Euro 2016 championship, crowded public spaces in cities such as bars, restaurants and transport hubs will probably be easier and more attractive targets for terrorists.
Image: Screenshot from Islamic State video ‘Kill them wherever you find them.’
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Risk Advisory’s Senior Intelligence Analyst, Jesper Cullen, discusses the severe terrorism threat in France during Euro 2016 on CNBC.
Risk Advisory’s Head of Intelligence & Analysis, Henry Wilkinson, is featured in the New York Times article Bracing for Terrorism: How France is Preparing for Euro 2016.