Securing European sporting events amidst ISKP threats


Several media entities affiliated with the Islamic State group (IS) recently posed threats to venues hosting Champions League fixtures in London, Madrid, and Paris, highlighting the pressing need for heightened security measures.

The threats included calls to recreate the 2015 Paris attack, which included three improvised explosive device (IED) explosions near the Stade de France, and to target stadiums with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The authorities significantly heightened security in the vicinity of the stadiums hosting Champions League matches in April.

The Spanish authorities raised the terrorism alert level to 4 (the second highest on a five-tier scale) and deployed 2,000 additional security personnel to the match venues. The UK and French authorities similarly boosted security at their respective Champions League fixture sites. All matches went ahead as scheduled and fortunately went ahead without incident.

Recent incidents associated with ISKP

These threats followed a fatal shooting in a Moscow suburb in March. The Moscow shooting occurred at Crocus City Hall during a concert, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 145 lives. The attack has been attributed to Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISKP), an IS affiliate active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In response to the threat posed by ISKP, German authorities apprehended two suspected members of the group on 19 March, suspected of planning an attack on the Swedish Parliament. Additionally, three individuals were arrested in North-Rhine Westphalia on 31 December for suspected plans to target Cologne Cathedral. This operation was connected to three arrests in Austria and one in Germany on 24 December. All four individuals were suspected of supporting ISKP.

The risk of ISKP remains in the medium term

While no attacks occurred on 9 or 10 April, the risk of ISKP militant operations in Europe remains in the medium term. The group’s recent attacks in Russia and Turkey indicate both capability and intent to conduct large-scale operations outside of its traditional areas of operations – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Evidence points to ISKP’s elevated intent to both recruit and carry out attacks targeting European countries.

Sweden and Denmark are particularly likely targets owing to Quran burnings that occurred in the two countries last year.

While IS-KP and other jihadist groups harbour significant intent, their operational capability within Europe remains comparatively limited when juxtaposed with regions like Russia and Turkey.

Recent arrests in Germany highlight the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in European countries. Counter-terrorism efforts have played a crucial role in preventing major Islamist terrorist incidents over the past year. Additionally, the pool of potential ISKP recruits in European countries is notably smaller than in Russia or Turkey.

Preparing for major sporting events

The IS threat is expected to prompt extensive counter-terrorism measures across Europe, especially with major sporting events like the European Football Championship and Paris Olympics on the horizon.

Given that sports events attract large crowds in confined spaces, they are prime targets for IS. Therefore, individuals planning to attend such events in Europe should anticipate heightened security measures outside venues. While the events are likely to proceed as scheduled, changes to itineraries may occur if a significant threat to a venue is identified.

Practical safety tips for attendees

  • Ensure itineraries consider the likelihood of additional time needed to pass through security checks.
  • Exercise a high degree of vigilance to suspicious activity and packages.
  • If you detect something untoward, report it immediately. Remove yourself from the immediate vicinity and inform the security forces.
  • Minimise the time spent in the foyer, entrance hall or other easily accessible areas of public buildings. These areas typically experience the highest volume of casualties in the event on an attack. As you enter a venue, be sure to identify the nearest emergency exits.
Ali Hassan
Intelligence Analyst
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