Euro 2016 overshadowed by fan violence and terrorism fears
London - As the Euro 2016 football tournament in France entered the final matches, security forces remained on high alert due to fears of terrorist attacks but it was violent clashes between rival fans, not terrorism, that dominated the headlines.
At least 90,000 security officers were placed on duty across France for the tournament, which lasts until July 10th. A total of 42,000 police officers and 30,000 gendarmes have been deployed, while 10,000 soldiers engaged in counter-terrorism duties in France were given additional responsibilities. Euro 2016 organisers also added 13,000 private security agents to work on match days.
“We are doing everything to avoid a terrorist attack and we’re preparing to react to one,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said ahead of the tournament. “Such a unique event in exceptional circumstances requires extra security measures.”
However, the biggest challenge that security forces have faced has been rowdy fans intent on causing trouble, with a number of games marred by violence.
UEFA officials issued Russia a suspended disqualification for fan violence following a contentious game against England. French authorities arrested and sent home dozens of Russian fans believed to be behind the fighting. As the tournament progressed, and teams were eliminated, the prospect of fan violence has decreased.
Stadium security has come in for criticism with fans setting off flares and fireworks during a number of matches. Questions were raised as to how fans were able to smuggle flares and fireworks into stadiums amid the heightened security.
“We were surprised by how slack the searches were going into the ground because they were almost non-existent. It was just a quick pat down and then they let you through. If they were doing them properly, how would the Russian fans have got the fireworks and flares in?” England fan Sam Blackwell asked the BBC.
“I would say it was very poor security given all I have been reading in the press about how it was going to be at its highest because of the risks that there were from other threats. I thought it was very poor,” he said.
Both England and Russia were knocked out of the tournament, with dejected fans returning home.
There also have been terrorist threats. French police commander Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and his partner were killed at their home outside of Paris by Larossi Abballa, a French national with previous convictions for terrorism. In a video posted on social media after the killings, Abballa swore allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) and warned: “We have other surprises for you [at] the Euros. The Euros will be a cemetery.”
French President François Hollande described the attack as “incontestably a terrorist act” and stressed that security agencies were doing everything in their power to ensure a safe environment for football fans.
The Paris attack came just days before Belgian police announced they foiled a plot designed to attack people in Brussels watching the Belgium-Ireland match at public fan zones, spaces with huge screens to allow the games to be viewed live. They have been a major security concern with experts warning that these could be prime terrorist targets.
Belgian authorities announced they had charged three men with attempting to commit a terrorist attack and belonging to a terrorist group. Police subsequently carried out additional raids across the country searching for arms and explosives that were to be used in the attack. Security sources warned the cell had ties to the terrorists who carried earlier Paris and Brussels attacks that killed more than 160 people.
The terror-alert level in Belgium is at its second highest, with the threat of an attack judged as being “possible and likely”. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, however, said fan zones in Brussels would continue to operate.
“We want to continue living normally,” he said. “The situation is under control. We are extremely vigilant. We are monitoring the situation hour-by-hour and we will continue with determination the fight against extremism, radicalisation and terrorism.”