Euro 2024: Islamist threat and friction with Russia pose challenge for German authorities


Tuesday, 11 June 2024 (17:00 IST)
Football fans at Euro 2024 can expect to experience the full gamut of emotions as their teams bid for glory in Germany. However, the stakes are much higher off the pitch.

With 51 games taking place in 10 cities and attracting millions of viewers, the tournament's profile and scale make it both a major challenge to security forces and an attractive target for agitators.

"Everyone is going to look at Germany during those couple of weeks when we have the championship here," Hans-Jakob Schindler of the Counter Extremism Project told DW.

"That means our adversaries are going to try to do whatever they can to disrupt this."

Fears of a terrorist attack on the Euros have increased since an attack on a concert hall in Moscow earlier this year claimed by an offshoot of the so-called "Islamic State" group left 145 people dead. A threat subsequently published in an IS propaganda magazine suggested the Euros tournament was a target. Still, Schindler said the public nature of that threat makes it less likely that a coordinated attack is planned.

"You don't advertise your complex attacks," he explained. "What you try to do with this is send out propaganda to make the security forces on those locations more nervous than they would normally be and hopefully, from their perspective, motivate some individual actors to do something."

A similar call to action during this season's Champions League knockout stage did not lead to any incident.

Threat of a 'lone-wolf' attack

Germany has been the target of a "lone-wolf" attack before. In 2016, a man who had pledged allegiance to IS drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 13 people. And in May, a knife attacker at an event in Mannheim left a police officer dead and five other people injured. Authorities believe the suspect had Islamist motives.

Schindler sees this kind of incident as the biggest threat for Germany.

"What remains really tricky is to figure out someone who you don't have on your radar, who is simply radicalizing by himself or within his group of friends, and then decides to take a knife and go to a fan zone and knife some people down," he said.

On matchdays, stadiums in Germany will have multiple layers of security. Only people with tickets or those accredited will be allowed to enter an arena, and bag searches and body pat-downs will be conducted outside amid a large police presence.

Fan zones are a more complex challenge. They attract huge crowds, with government figures predicting up to 12 million people will visit fan zones, compared to 2.7 million in the stadiums. The lack of ticketing also makes it harder to control who enters the area.

"It's very clear that fan zones are the classic definition of a soft target for terrorism," said Schindler.

"Fan zones cannot be an afterthought in the security concept. They need to be at the same level of security in your planning. However you physically implement that, they need to have the same priority as the actual games."

Authorities have done their homework

While the idea of an attack is a worrisome prospect for fans, these are threats that authorities have been preparing for.

A national security concept has been developed for the Euros, which will see Germany implement border checks for arrivals from fellow Schengen countries during the tournament. A special police center will coordinate relevant security information from around the continent, while 300 officers have been drafted in from other countries to advise local forces.

"The security of the European Championship in our country is a top priority. All the security services are preparing to the highest professional standards," said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser. "At all of the venues, and wherever there are large numbers of people, there will be a strong police presence."

Russia's war in Ukraine also makes the security situation more complicated. The Ukrainian national team qualified for the tournament, while Russia remains suspended by UEFA.

"There is going to be an enormous amount of propaganda in Russia against the Ukrainian team," said Schindler. "I would expect the chances to be quite good that there is going to be a demonstration wherever the Ukrainian team is housed, whenever the Ukrainian team is playing."

Schindler feels a digital attack is more likely than a physical one.

"Obviously, the cyber realm is a threat. It is an active battle zone now," he said.

"Will Russia be willing to go so far as organizing violence? I'm sure they wouldn't mind if someone else does. But I'm not sure if they're there yet to actually actively try to instill violence in Germany."
'We invite everyone to be our guests'

Overall, Schindler believes fans should feel relaxed about traveling to the tournament as long as they contribute to its smooth operation.

"You do not have to worry that this is a death trap that you're walking into. This is well-organized, this is well-protected," he said.

"But it does require a little bit of participation on your side. Don't be violent, don't be stupid, don't be naive. If you see something, say something."

Interior Minister Faeser echoed that sentiment.

"Of course, there are risks, and we have to recognize them," she said. "We are doing everything we can to avoid terrorist attacks and other things. We are doing a great deal for security. And we invite everyone to be our guests."

Read on Webdunia

Related Article