June 8, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: The Terror Threats to Euro 2016

• On June 6, Ukrainian officials announced the arrest of a French national who was attempting to purchase explosives and weapons to be used in attacks in France, including during the upcoming Euro 2016 soccer tournament

• According to Ukrainian statements, the unidentified suspect intended to target Jewish and Muslim places of worship as well as government buildings in addition to Euro 2016, though French officials dispute parts of the allegations

• The U.S. and UK governments have issued alerts warning citizens of threats to crowded fan venues, and French authorities have deployed 90,000 soldiers and security personnel to protect the games

• The threat of right-wing terrorism has merged with the elevated risk of attacks associated with the Islamic State, shrouding Euro 2016 under credible, yet non-specific, threats.


Even in a normal threat environment, the security challenges associated with the Euro 2016 soccer tournament in France—which involves ten venues hosting 51 total matches—would be daunting. As the June 10 tournament approaches, the threat environment is anything but normal, and faces persistent and credible threats from a disparate group of actors—both within France as well as broader Western Europe.

Threats directed at Euro 2016 from the so-called Islamic State have understandably received the most attention considering the group’s recent attacks, the presumed and probable presence of cells or individual sympathizers that have returned from Syria, and the group’s repeated calls for attacks during Ramadan and against civilians. The tournament, which runs from June 10 to July 10, is likely high on the list of any Islamic State target matrix. Even a failed attack would generate massive publicity and fear. The potential combination of explosives and rifles against crowded fan venues just outside security perimeters will likely face particular risk. The U.S. and UK have each issued warnings to their nationals of elevated risks related to these types of soft targets.

On June 6, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) announced the arrest of an unidentified French national along the Ukrainian-Polish border under suspicion of terrorism. The 25 year-old was arrested last month after a sting operation in which he reportedly purchased a large supply of weapons, to include 125 kilograms of TNT. The SBU reported that the suspect was a right-wing ultranationalist who intended to target Jewish and Muslim places of worship, along with French government buildings and venues associated with Euro 2016. The French government has not confirmed this information, and the scale and scope of the alleged plot remains unclear. 

As seen in the November 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, it is impossible to definitively secure a city made up of countless potential targets, and the burden falling on intelligence agencies to detect and disrupt plots quickly and repeatedly. Obvious targets such as the Stade de France in Paris—which the November 2015 attackers targeted with suicide vests to little effect—are the easiest to harden in terms of access control and checkpoints. However, as seen in Brussels, getting past the security is not necessary for a successful attack; rather, it is the crowds that build up on the outer rings waiting to get through security perimeters that are at greatest risk. Stringent security protocols designed to harden soft targets generate dense queues of civilians waiting to gain access to secured areas. Since security zones inherently must start and end somewhere, the crowds just outside the perimeter present opportune targets for terrorists.

The elevated threat level across Europe, coupled with the heightened concerns associated with a high-profile event like Euro 2016, is particularly worrisome for European counterterrorism efforts. All large-scale events generate security concerns, but the confluence of demonstrated credible threats—not just from al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, but also increasingly active right-wing fanatics—with security services stretched beyond capacity makes the month-long tournament in France a very serious target.



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