French security gets first test on eve of Euro 2016

French police standing guard at a fan zone in Nice, France, on Wednesday. The country is on heightened alert for terrorist attacks during the Euro 2016 football championships taking place from today (local time) to July 10.
French police standing guard at a fan zone in Nice, France, on Wednesday. The country is on heightened alert for terrorist attacks during the Euro 2016 football championships taking place from today (local time) to July 10.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Concert to be held today at big outdoor fan zone in Paris, amid fears of terrorist attacks

PARIS • France faces its first major security challenge of the Euro 2016 football championships today with a giant open-air concert at the 90,000-capacity fan zone in Paris.

French DJ David Guetta will play for the crowd at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, a day before the host, France, faces Romania in the tournament's opening match at Paris' Stade de France.

The stadium was targeted by suicide bombers in the Nov 13 attacks that killed 130 people across the capital, and there are fears that Europe's four-yearly football extravaganza could be targeted.

With some 2.5 million people descending on the country for the tournament, French officials have acknowledged that even as they take all possible steps to prevent and deter terrorist attacks, there is no such thing as zero risk.

In Paris, the police fear they will be so overstretched that they have asked the government to close huge and popular fan zones for some matches. So far, the government has demurred, even while conceding the risks.

The United States and British governments have warned their citizens to stay away, calling the crowded sports events, as well as transport hubs and other venues broadcasting the games, "potential targets for terrorist attacks".

Security forces have staged nearly 30 drills in cities across France, preparing for bombs, chemical weapons and even drone attacks. Police reinforcements will be brought to Paris from around the country; some 13,000 private security guards have been hired nationwide.

Euro 2016, a month-long tournament involving 24 national teams from across Europe, will have a total of 51 matches played in 10 cities around the country.

Although there are no specific threats so far, according to France's Interior Ministry, all the available information points to a daunting level of risk.

On the eve of the start of the matches, security forces are reassessing each public space - the stadiums, public transport and, most of all, the outdoor fan zones - to ensure access for elite police forces as well as emergency medical services.

The housing facilities for the 24 national teams are also drawing close attention from law enforcement officials, a concern ever since the 1972 terrorist attacks in Munich against Israel's Olympic team.

Besides the potential for bombs, the police and special police forces have prepared for the possibility, however unlikely they say, of an airborne attack from a civilian drone, which could theoretically drop an explosive or release a chemical substance.

A more likely scenario, they fear, is a repeat of the kind of attack staged in November at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, where 90 people were gunned down by attackers wearing suicide vests. Another concern is the possibility of lone-wolf attacks, which the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has urged its followers to carry out.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'French security gets first test on eve of Euro 2016'. Print Edition | Subscribe