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This photograph taken on June 4, 2024 shows the construction site of the Eiffel Tower Stadium that will host the Beach Volleyball and men's Blind Football competitions during the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics at the Champ-de-Mars garden in Paris. (Photo by Sami KARAALI / AFP)

This photograph, taken on 4 June 2024, shows the construction site of the Eiffel Tower Stadium that will host the Beach Volleyball and men's Blind Football competitions during the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics at the Champ-de-Mars garden in Paris. (Photo by SAMI KARAALI/AFP via Getty Images)

French Police Arrest Man for Hotel Room Explosion as Olympic Security Efforts Ramp-Up

French authorities arrested a Ukrainian-Russian man suspected of detonating explosive materials inside a hotel room north of Paris on Wednesday.

A source who spoke with Reuters said Paris officials have “opened an investigation into the man, who is suspected of participation in a terrorist conspiracy and bomb plot.”

The incident occurred as France is at its highest threat level while it prepares for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, which begin in less than 50 days. It also occurred shortly after police arrested an 18-year-old man in May for allegedly plotting to attack Paris 2024 Olympic Games soccer venues, according to new information released Thursday.

The suspect is a Chechen national who France’s General Directorate of Internal Security (DGSI) said was plotting to commit an “Islamist-inspired attack” targeting spectators and police at the Geoffrey Guichard stadium in Saint-Etienne, according to an updated statement released by the French Ministry of the Interior and Overseas Territories on 6 June. The stadium will host soccer matches for the Olympic Games, which begin in late July.

“This is the first foiled attack against the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the 50th attack foiled by our intelligence services since 2017,” said Gérald Darmanin, minister of the interior and overseas territories.

France hosted the Olympics 100 years ago in an event that celebrated not just the competition on the field but the emergence of Europe from World War I and the end of the Spanish Flu epidemic. France’s current bid to host the Olympics came after the “gruesome ISIS attacks” in 2015, said Ted Singer, senior advisor, the Chertoff Group, in a webinar on mitigating travel security risks at the Olympics hosted by security services provider Global Guardian.

French officials were “adamant in proposing this expensive bid to try and give a glimmer of hope to the City of Light, to show that France could bounce back from the attack—an antidote, if you will, to the tragic events over those years,” added Singer, who prior to the Chertoff Group was a senior executive with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Singer said he is concerned that organized groups or religiously motivated individuals will see the games as an opportunity to advance their goals or exact revenge.

His concerns are not unfounded. In a report from Global Guardian shared with Security Management, analysts assessed that “France is a target for Islamist attacks due to its leadership role in campaigns against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Africa and its large, relatively marginalized Muslim community.”

The ongoing wars in Ukraine and the Middle East are also exacerbating tensions, increasing the likelihood that a threat actor will use the Olympics to “capitalize on the world’s attention,” similar to the actions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization during the Munich Olympics in 1972.

“Furthermore, France’s ‘unlimited support’ policy towards Ukraine makes it a target for Russia, and its banning of pro-Palestine protests and support for Israel make it a valuable target for Islamists,” the analysts wrote.

France’s intelligence agencies have adapted to the new threat landscape by better integrating approximately six agencies, Singer said. The country is also leveraging its involvement in a counterterrorism group of EU interior ministers and relationships with other non-EU countries—such as the United States and Israel—for intelligence gathering. The United States, in particular, will have a large presence in Paris to support the Olympics, including additional personnel to feed U.S. State Department Overseas Advisory Council (OSAC) information to disseminate to the private sector.

“They are all making sure the Olympics are not a flash point for the world,” Singer said, adding that “they will be feeding in threat information that they are collecting from overseas that might affect the Olympics.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has also put two young professionals in key positions in the intelligence community. “Both have experience in the intelligence and security domain, and it was a change made to demonstrate a focus on the Olympics and the need for good security,” Singer adds.

Additionally, France has invested in artificial intelligence (AI) software, drones, counter drones, and counter surveillance measures to enhance its security posture ahead of this summer’s games.

In a threat briefing from Crisis24, France-based intelligence analyst Chris Clough explained that officials adopted a law in May 2023 approving AI-augmented cameras to detect predetermined events in real-time “in places hosting demonstrations, in their surroundings, and on public transport, but the use of facial recognition has been denied.”

France’s Air Force has created a drone surveillance and neutralization program to limit uncrewed aerial device threats. The French military also plans to deploy 20,000 armed soldiers throughout Paris—which is not uncommon in the city—to be visible during the games, along with police and private security officers.

This could be to help protect the public and travelers when they are gathered outside of an official venue and security perimeter—in a gray space or zone ex—making them vulnerable to attack, according to new guidance released this week from the UK’s National Protective Security Authority (NPSA) on mitigating terrorist attacks at venues during ingress and egress.

“Terrorist groups aim to generate maximum impact by targeting locations where a large number of people are gathered,” according to the guidance. “Attacks on crowds can result in high numbers of casualties, widespread fear, and disruption of everyday activities.”

These types of attacks can also be used to create fear and anxiety among the general population.

“By targeting crowded places, terrorists aim to create a climate of fear and disrupt social harmony, potentially influencing public opinion and causing socio-political ramifications,” the guidance explained. “Media attention amplifies the impact of their actions.”

Looking at this style of attack in the UK, the NPSA found that terrorists were most likely to engage in five different attack methods:

  1. Marauding Terror Attack: Using blades or other weapons—including guns—to attack people.

  2. Vehicle as a Weapon: Deliberately driving a vehicle at an individual or into a crowd to cause harm.

  3. Improvised Explosive Device: Devices that can be carried, placed, posted, or delivered by vehicle.

  4. Fire as a Weapon: Petrol or other flammable material used to start a fire with the intent to cause harm to people.

  5. Hazardous Substances: Corrosive or flammable chemicals, toxic, or radioactive materials used to injure others.

One major effort that venues can implement to prevent these attacks is to limit vehicle traffic near the venue through Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM). These mitigation measures include isolating traffic to prevent access to crowded places or critical structures, as well as installing bollards, barriers, and landscape design to stop vehicles.

“Always consider the entire ingress and egress route to ensure crowds associated with your venue are protected as far as is practicable,” according to the NPSA guidance. “Keep pedestrian and vehicle interaction to an absolute minimum.

“For example, move drop-off and pick-up points away from crowded pedestrian areas, reorganize entry queues to form in an adjacent side street instead of at the front entrance, and close nearby car parks during the peak egress period to allow pedestrians to get away from the area.”

In Paris, for instance, officials are creating four zones of movement restrictions around Olympic venues. As individuals move closer to the venues, additional security measures will be in place to limit unofficial vehicular traffic, bicycle traffic, and pedestrian foot traffic.

“While these security zones are essential for ensuring the safety of the Olympics, they will inevitably lead to significant delays and disruptions,” wrote Harry Arruda, CEO of executive protection firm Cooke & Associates, for Security Technology. “Stringent screening procedures within the zones and restricted access levels will undoubtedly result in prolonged wait times for attendees and increased logistical challenges for event organizers.”

This means that security practitioners—especially executive protection personnel—will need to plan for delays in getting clients to venues on time, as well as have contingency measures for how to evacuate clients in response to a medical emergency or attack, said Thomas Rossi, Paris-based CEO of Wagram Protection, in the Global Guardian webinar.

The most difficult day will be that of the Opening Ceremony—26 July—which will take place on the Seine River instead of inside a stadium.

“It will be impossible to approach and cross bridges,” Rossi said. “Even the airspace will be completely closed within a radius of 150 kilometers around Paris during this day.”

While taking actions to protect clients, athletes, fans, and venues in Paris, security practitioners also need to carefully assess where they’re gathering their threat intelligence from. In an update from Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center, Clint Watts—leader of Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center—wrote that Russia is increasing its disinformation campaigns against France, President Macron, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the Olympic games with a goal to create an “expectation of violence breaking out in Paris at the games.”

The threat actor behind these efforts—known as Storm-1679—has created a campaign of deceptive videos claiming that “Parisians were buying property insurance in anticipation of terrorism at the games,” “tickets for the games had been returned due to fears of terrorism,” and that intelligence agencies were “warning potential attendees to stay away from the Paris 2024 Olympics due to the alleged risk of a terror attack.”

Microsoft anticipates that this activity will intensify in the lead-up to the Olympics and be spread via online bots and automated social media accounts.

“On the ground, Russian actors may look to exploit the focus on stringent security by creating the illusions of protests or real-world provocations, thus undermining confidence in the IOC and French security forces,” according to the Microsoft brief. “In-person staging of events—whether real or orchestrated—near or around Olympic venues could be used to manipulate public perceptions and generate a sense of fear and uncertainty.”

For more insights on sports venue security initiatives, check out the June issue of Security Technology.