Friday 30 September 2016

Euro 2016 fans warned of terror risk in France

Government 'reinforces' Irish Embassy in Paris with extra manpower and financial resources

Claire Mc Cormack

Published 05/06/2016 | 02:30

French Police forces take part in a mock attack drill outside the Grand Stade stadium (aka Parc Olympique Lyonnais or the Stade des Lumieres) in Decines, near Lyon, France, in preparation of security measures for the UEFA 2016 European Championship May 30, 2016. REUTERS/Robert Pratta
French Police forces take part in a mock attack drill outside the Grand Stade stadium (aka Parc Olympique Lyonnais or the Stade des Lumieres) in Decines, near Lyon, France, in preparation of security measures for the UEFA 2016 European Championship May 30, 2016. REUTERS/Robert Pratta

The Government has warned Irish fans travelling to the European Championship in France to "exercise a high degree of caution" as fears increase that the tournament will be targeted for a deadly terrorist attack.

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Noting "the exceptional security situation in France", which remains in a state of emergency, the Department have flown in extra diplomatic staff to the embassy in Paris.

All key consular staff have undergone special training in emergency response and crisis management, such are the concerns around the potential of an attack by terrorists.

Gardai, the consular division of the Department of Foreign Affairs, embassy staff in Paris and senior officials from the FAI conducted a crisis simulation exercise last month.

Telecommunications, IT and other infrastructure which could come under pressure in the event of a major emergency during the Euros have also been enhanced.

More than 70,000 supporters are expected to travel to the football tournament against this backdrop of heightened security.

Last week, the US State Department issued an unusually broad travel alert to all American tourists, warning that they could be in danger at major events in Europe - singling out Euro 2016 in particular.

The guidelines state: "Euro Cup Stadiums, fan zones and unaffiliated entertainment venues broadcasting the tournaments in France represent potential targets for terrorists."

The alert was issued following intelligence warnings that Islamic State (Isil) is planning attacks at sporting events and tourist locations - including Mediterranean beach resorts.

In response, Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, is advising Irish citizens intending to travel to be "very vigilant".

"My advice is that they should exercise a high degree of caution. Detailed travel advice is available on my department's website and I would encourage all those considering travelling to France to study it carefully," he said.

"My department has been implementing a comprehensive action plan to ensure that the Embassy of Ireland in Paris is supported in its capacity to deal with the likely increased consular demand over the course of the European Championship," he said.

The Department is working closely with travel industry representatives on planning and preparation.

Geraldine Byrne-Nason, Ireland's Ambassador in Paris, has also been liaising with Uefa and relevant national and local authorities in France.

"An additional five experienced officers will be redeployed to our embassy in Paris. Officials will also be present on the ground in Paris, Bordeaux and Lille around match dates to provide advice and emergency consular assistance to Irish citizens in difficulty," Minister Flanagan told the Sunday Independent.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will discuss possible terror attacks at the Euros at a meeting in Luxemburg this week.

Senior sources said the terror threat level is still high in France ahead of the games kicking off, but insisted no specific intelligence on an attack has been raised.

FAI sources say the threat of safety has never been greater for an international tournament.

"On that basis, of course there will be a very adequate security presence with the team at all times, as there will be with teams from all 24 nations taking part. Security efforts have been stepped up from previous tournaments, including at hotels where the team will be staying," sources say.

Earlier this month, all parties were involved in a crisis simulation exercise as part of their contingency strategy.

A group of gardai, led by an experienced superintendent, have been selected to work as part of an international policing team at the events.

Accompanied by French police, the garda team will keep a watchful eye over fan zones and stadiums.

A dedicated Euro 2016 consular phone line will be operational seven days a week from June 10, and further financial resources have also been allocated to cover extra transport and communications costs.

France has come under mounting pressure to ensure the safety of Euro 2016 fans after 130 people were murdered in the Paris attacks just seven months ago.

The French government has rolled out maximum security for tournament, announcing that 90,000 police, firemen and security agents will be deployed at stadiums, fan zones and on the streets during the finals.

A total of 42,000 police officers and 30,000 gendarmes - including agents from the French equivalent of the SAS - will be deployed during the month-long sporting event. Organisers will also deploy another 10,000 agents from private security companies.

Each team will also have 17 officers and two agents from France's elite special forces - who specialise in counter-terrorism and hostage situations - to protect the players.

Sunday Independent

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