Saturday 22 October 2016

Euro 2016 fans face 'wave of terror'

Spy chief confirms Isil plans to hit football crowds

Jonathan Gray

Published 20/05/2016 | 02:30

Soldiers patrol near the Eiffel Tower in Paris in the wake of the November attacks. Photo: Reuters
Soldiers patrol near the Eiffel Tower in Paris in the wake of the November attacks. Photo: Reuters

Isil militants are gearing up for a campaign of bomb attacks on large crowds in France, host to next month's Euro 2016 soccer championships, the country's spy chief has said.

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Rare remarks by Patrick Calvar spelled out "a new form of attack ... characterised by placing explosive devices in places where there are large crowds and repeating this type of action to create a climate of maximum panic".

It is feared Isil terrorists will launch a "spectacular" against "soft target" football fans to prove its strength in the face of sustained military attacks in Syria.

Mr Calvar, the head of France's DGSI internal intelligence agency, was speaking to the parliament's defence committee less than a month before the showpiece European football tournament is due to begin.

Upwards of 70,000 Irish fans are expected to travel to France this summer for Euro 2016 despite the FAI receiving less than 40,000 tickets.

But Mr Calvar warned: "Clearly, France is the most threatened and we know that Daesh (Isil) is planning new attacks."

People on the pitch at the Stade de France after a suicide bombing. Photo: Getty
People on the pitch at the Stade de France after a suicide bombing. Photo: Getty

The comments came six months after terrorists killed 130 people in coordinated assaults on cafés, bars, a football stadium and a music venue across Paris.

Mr Calvar said the militant group had the numbers to launch the new attacks, including some 645 French citizens or residents currently in Syria or Iraq, of which 400 were fighters.

A further 201 were either in transit to or from the region, he said.

Using the Arabic acronym for Isil, Mr Calvar said Daesh was still using the same migrant routes through the Balkans to get its fighters into Europe. However, with the group under pressure from US-led air strikes in Syria, it would want to hit back in Europe, to show its supporters that it was still strong.

"It's in a position where it would try to hit as quickly as possible and as hard as possible," Mr Calvar said.

"It is facing military difficulties on the ground and so will want to divert attention and avenge coalition air strikes."

France's parliament yesterday extended the state of emergency, in place since November's Paris attacks, for another two months including the Euro 2016 tournament.

This had already been backed by a large majority in the upper house Senate, and the National Assembly confirmed the measure yesterday.

Euro 2016 starts on June 10 and runs for a month at 10 stadiums across France.

About 2.5 million spectators are expected for 51 soccer matches involving 24 teams. There will also be "fan zones" for crowds watching games on big screens in major cities.

The Irish fans will initially be based in Paris for their opening match against Sweden on June 13, with further fixtures in Bordeaux and Lille.

And in a reminder of the challenges facing security forces, a fake bomb left behind after a training exercise at Manchester United's stadium forced the evacuation of the 75,000-seater ground and the abandonment of a match last weekend.

France's police force is stretched after two militant attacks last year and regular street protests. However, the government says all measures are in place to ensure the tournament runs smoothly. "We will not drop our guard," Prime Minister Manuel Valls told RTL radio when asked about Mr Calvar's comments.

Irish Independent

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