Security tight in Lille ahead of Ireland's crunch match with Italy
Published 22/06/2016 | 02:30
The Green Army has been greeted by unprecedented security in northern France amid police fears that Belgian-based Islamic terrorists may yet attempt to target Euro 16 matches in Lille.
More than 50,000 Ireland fans will be in Lille and its surrounding areas for the crunch match tonight with Italy.
Tight security is now in place in Lille in the wake of the murder of a French police commander and his wife in Paris last week by an Isil supporter, and the arrests last weekend by Belgian authorities of a suspected fundamentalist network who were believed to be planning Euro 16 attacks.
While the attacks were planned for Belgian cities including Brussels, Antwerp and Namur, French police have been briefed by their Belgian counterparts.
Lille is located just 20km from the Belgian border - and just 70km from Brussels.
"Everywhere you look, there seems to be police or soldiers," said fan Eoin Byrne from Kildare. "But I think that's good - I feel a lot safer when I see that many of them around the place."
Pat Murphy from Cork said Irish fans have been reassured by the police presence. "There's been no hassle at all with the French police. They've been really helpful, even when the lads don't speak much English."
Lille police are now conducting random searches around the city, particularly targeting people with rucksacks or suitcases.
Fans entering the Lille fan-zone or Stade Pierre Mauroy will go through three strict security cordons. Some sensitive areas will require people to pass through metal detectors before they can gain access. Police sniffer dog teams are also patrolling the city.
An eight-strong garda team led by Supt Gerry Delmar arrived in Lille on Monday night and urged Irish fans to obey all local security instructions.
"A number of Irish fans have missed the beginning of games because they have not given themselves enough time. There are airport-style security checks in place," said Supt Delmar.
Armed police are also patrolling Lille's medieval quarter which is packed with restaurants and pubs.