Paris Summer Olympics 2024

Special Security Assessment: Paris Olympics

 

The Ackerman Group is undertaking periodic security assessments in advance of the Paris Summer Olympics, which run from 26 July to 11 August.

The first iteration was published on 26 April. This is the second, released 60 days before the opening ceremony of the Games. Updated material is highlighted in yellow.

The paramount concern remains Islamic terrorism.

Despite exhaustive efforts by France’s competent security services, organized attacks by trained terrorists cannot be ruled out. Indicating the seriousness of the threat, President Emmanuel Macron has said that the large boat procession of athletes on the Seine River planned for the opening ceremony could be downgraded to a less elaborate event in a secure venue. 

It will be particularly challenging to prevent terrorist attacks by radicalized singletons and small groups of amateurs using weapons at hand, such as knives and vehicles.

With security tight at sporting venues and transportation hubs during the Olympics, both sophisticated and primitive Islamic terrorists could opt to target crowds on the street or in relatively unprotected enclosed places such as cafes, restaurants and stores.

Conventional crime is a problem in Paris at the best of times, and incidents are certain during the Olympics despite the massive deployment of police and military personnel on the streets. Muggings are a concern in isolated and poorer areas as well as after dark. Risks of pocket-picking and other non-confrontational theft must be considered serious.

Cyberattacks and disruptive demonstrations cannot be ruled out.

This service recommends serious precautions:

·         Senior executives should be furnished with professional security escorts fluent in French. The chief purpose of security escorts is to navigate Paris and sporting events with an eye toward terrorism and crime risks and to serve as a liaison with French security personnel. In the event of a serious incident in the vicinity, the judgment and actions of security escorts could prove invaluable. They need not be armed, although exceptional circumstances may warrant that option. 

·         All personnel should exercise commonsense precautions against petty and violent crime.

·         Those in Paris during the Games should monitor the news constantly with the aim of avoiding or minimizing exposure to security incidents, cyberattacks, protests and other disruptive events.

·         Corporations should ensure that Crisis Management Team members are prepared to immediately respond to and handle Olympics-related incidents.

 

SECURITY OVERVIEW

France plans to deploy 35,000 police and gendarmes, up to 22,000 private security personnel and around 18,000 military personnel each day of the Olympics.

Possible shortfalls in recruitment of private security personnel would be made up for through deployment of additional police and gendarmes.

Separately, 46 countries will contribute some 2,500 police and military personnel, many of whom will be armed. They will participate in motorized and equestrian patrols as well as in canine, anti-drone, cybersecurity, document fraud and other security teams.

Meanwhile, the United States and Israel will send security teams that will operate autonomously.

National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (French abbr: GIGN) anti-terrorism and hostage-recovery commandos repeatedly have conducted Olympics-related drills.

Also on standby will be hundreds of French firefighters trained in chemical and nuclear attack response.

France in recent years has hosted premier international sporting events without incident. They include the month-long 2016 UEFA European Football Championship that drew 600,000 foreign spectators in Paris and other cities and the 2022 UEFA Champions League final watched by 75,000 people in the Stade de France, a key venue in the upcoming Summer Olympics. 

It is worth noting that efforts to secure this summer’s Games dwarf all previous such efforts.  

Sporting events will take place in 41 venues across a broad area ranging from central Paris to communities on the outskirts of the capital.

An estimated 15 million visitors are expected to be in Paris and its surroundings over the course of the Games.

A focal point will be the northern suburb of Saint Denis, where the Stade de France, the newly constructed Olympic Village housing 10,500 athletes and the newly constructed Olympic aquatics center are located. The surrounding area is home to socially and economically marginalized people of North and sub-Saharan African origin and traditionally has been plagued by high crime rates and occasional riots. Many Paris residents deliberately avoid the area. Olympics-related development projects and a large police presence are expected to bolster security during the Games.

Among other security measures that day, 10,000 additional police and gendarmes will be on-duty and airspace will be closed for a 100-mile radius around Paris, with all four regional airports shut down and a special focus on preventing unauthorized drones from operating. Snipers will take up positions in historic buildings of various shapes and sizes and anti-terrorism commandos will be poised for action. Myriad tunnels, sewers and pipes will be sealed or otherwise closed to intrusion. 

The opening ceremony poses a significant security challenge because it will involve 94 boats carrying thousands of athletes down a 3.7 mile stretch of the Seine River followed by 80 boats carrying media and others. The procession will end at Trocadero Square, facing the Eiffel Tower. Some 120 foreign heads of state are expected to attend.

Organizers originally planned to accommodate 600,000 opening ceremony spectators on the riverbanks but halved the number to 300,000. The original idea of allowing members of the public free access was scrapped and tickets have been issued by invitation rather than open registration.

A zone on both banks of the Seine will close to traffic beginning eight days before the opening ceremony. The general public will be barred from the zone until the Games are over. Metro stations, restaurants and businesses in the zone will be closed. 

The zone’s 20,000 residents and jobholders are required to submit to screening to obtain a QR code allowing them to maintain access. Paris authorities on 13 May launched a registration platform online for visitors seeking a QR code for the zone. Those with tickets for the opening ceremony will not be required to obtain a QR code but will not be able to enter the zone during the prior week.

The QR code, known as a Games Pass (French: Pass Jeux), will be needed to enter the “gray” zone described above as well the “gray” and “black” zones around sporting venues. A Games Pass will not be required to enter the outer two security rings, “red” and “blue.” 

Games Passes are free of charge. They are not needed for ticketed spectators headed to their event.

The overall scheme for the zones is somewhat confusing, meaning the counsel of a knowledgeable French colleague should be sought for clarity. 

Paris area public transportation operators expect up to 800,000 passengers per day during the Olympics. Additional security personnel and apparatus will be in place at Charles de Gaulle and Orly international airports, major train stations and hubs of the Metro system.

 

TERRORISM RISKS

France on 25 March raised its terrorism alert level to the highest tier in response to the massacre of 145 people in a concert hall in Russia three days earlier by operatives of an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) branch based in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Four camouflage-clad assailants stormed the venue in Moscow and randomly sprayed fire from assault rifles and ignited a fire with explosives. Video made clear that they were trained terrorists rather than amateurs.

Macron in discussing the increase in the terrorism alert level said the ISIS branch, known as Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K), had attempted to stage attacks in France.

He provided no details, but Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said two attack plots had been broken up since the start of the year, including one in Strasbourg.

Indicating the gravity of the situation, Macron on 15 April said that plans were in place to shift the opening ceremony of the Olympics from the Seine boat procession through the heart of Paris if credible information about a terrorist plot were to emerge.

He said the smaller-scale ceremony could be held in the Stade de France or the Trocadero area.

Macron said that planning for the opening ceremony would continue to focus on the Seine procession but that French authorities were monitoring the security situation “in real time.”

French security services undoubtedly also are on alert for terrorist plots against sporting venues and related targets over the course of the Olympics.

ISIS elements have lost considerable momentum since the savage jihadist network suffered a complete military defeat in Syria and Iraq several years ago.

But over two dozen ISIS-K operatives originally from former Soviet Central Asia are known to have been arrested in Western Europe in the past year, raising fresh concerns about possible organized terrorist attacks in the West.

French security services long have monitored foreign Islamic extremists in cooperation with intelligence services of other Western countries and Islamic countries.

Separately, French authorities for years have been monitoring a staggering 18,000 domestic Islamic militants, including several thousand placed under active surveillance.

Paris has been on heightened alert, with armed soldiers deployed at transportation hubs and other vulnerable points, since the nine French and foreign ISIS operatives on 13 November 2015 slaughtered 130 people and wounded 368 in shooting and suicide-bombing attacks at a theater, several restaurants and a stadium. 

Like neighboring countries, France in the 2010s suffered a rash of primitive attacks by local jihadists responding to the call by ISIS for terrorism in the West using weapons at hand, such as knives or vehicles. 

Such attacks have become less common in recent years but continue to occur occasionally.

In the latest such attack in France, a local ISIS supporter stabbed a Philippine-German dual national to death and wounded two other people near the Eiffel Tower at 2100 on 2 December.

The 26-year-old assailant attacked the Philippine-German on Quai de Grenelle. The victim’s wife was saved by the intervention of a taxi driver.

After fleeing across a bridge over the Seine, the assailant hit a 66-year-old British tourist in the eye with a hammer and also injured a French man in his sixties.

At that point, police tasered and arrested the assailant.

During the rampage, the assailant shouted “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is Greatest!”).

Born in France to Iranian parents, the assailant in 2016 was sentenced to four years in prison for plotting a terrorist attack.

Before his rampage on 2 December, he posted a video online pledging support for ISIS.

French authorities said the assailant had a history of mental illness and that when he recently stopped taking medication his mother was too afraid of him to confront him about it.

France suffered by far its deadliest singleton Islamic terrorist attack on 14 July 2016, when a Tunisian ISIS supporter killed 84 people by driving a large commercial truck through a crowd that had just watched a Bastille Day fireworks display in the Riviera resort city of Nice. 

Primitive terrorist attacks are relatively difficult for authorities to prevent.

ISIS is not the only potential source of Islamic terrorism in France. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the vicious North African affiliate of al-Qaida, repeatedly has threatened to stage attacks on French soil and is known to have operatives among France’s large Muslim minority.

At the best of times, this service advises personnel to minimize to the extent practical their exposure to traditional Islamic terrorist targets, including the Metro system, commuter trains, famous cathedrals, museums, landmarks that attract large numbers of tourists, major hotels, government buildings, Jewish sites and Western embassies. To the extent practical, personnel should avoid entering enclosed places open to the public that lack visible security. They should pass as quickly as possible from public lobbies to secure areas of airports. Multinationals, especially those located near transportation hubs and famous places, should review and, if necessary, upgrade access controls and bomb defenses.

 

LESSONS OF 2015 ATTACKS

France remains haunted by the 2015 Paris Massacre.

The attacks were staged by three teams of assailants armed identically with AK-47s and TATP (triacetone triperoxide)-laden suicide bomb vests. Six of the assailants blew themselves up and one was shot dead by police before he could blow himself up. 

Several of the assailants had waged jihad in Syria with ISIS. At least six of them were French citizens, including three who had been living in Belgium. One – the mastermind, Abdelhmamid Abaaoud – was a French-speaking Belgian citizen. Another was a Belgian citizen. Two assailants who remain unidentified carried false Syrian identification documents, including one whose fingerprints showed that he recently had entered Greece in the tidal wave of Syrian and other mostly Muslim migrants flooding European Union countries at that time. 

The first target of the assailants was the Stade de France, where a soccer match was underway between France and Germany, with then-President Francois Hollande in attendance. At least one assailant had a ticket and attempted to enter the stadium. Security personnel frisked him, and when they discovered his suicide-bomb vest, he blew himself up, killing himself and one other person. Two accomplices in ensuing minutes blew themselves up nearby, killing no one but themselves.

A second team of terrorists operating from a car fired at patrons of four eating and drinking establishments in the 10th and 11th arrondissements (districts), killing a total of 39 people. One of the terrorists then blew himself up in another restaurant, killing only himself. At least two other gunmen escaped.

A third terrorist team massacred 90 attendees of a rock performance at the Bataclan concert hall. As police moved in, two members of the team blew themselves up, and a third was shot dead before he could do the same. 

The main objective of the terrorists simply was to kill as many as possible. ISIS claimed credit, calling France the “capital of prostitution and obscenity.”

The failure of assailants to enter the Stade de France owing to effective access-control procedures and the successful entry of other attackers armed with AK-47s, grenades and explosives vests into Bataclan hall, where access controls were absent, spoke volumes about the validity of controlling access to public events.

The attacks were not particularly complex or sophisticated. The terrorists, however, did demonstrate a high degree of organization, as well as reasonable shooting prowess and impressive operational security in managing to avoid detection by the highly competent French security services. They also showed a capability to manufacture explosive vests in Europe from TATP, which can be made from readily available chemicals but requires expert handling because it is highly unstable.

 

GAZA WAR TENSIONS

France has Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations, and the Gaza war has triggered passionate pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

Altercations between supporters of the two sides have erupted on the edges of some protests.

While most pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been peaceful, hotheaded young Muslims, many of them socially marginalized, have used protests as cover to clash with police. Many of the rioters have been arrested.

Young Muslim hotheads also have sharply escalated anti-Semitic vandalism and acts of intimidation.

In a particularly noteworthy incident, police shortly before 0700 on 17 May shot dead an Algerian migrant who attacked them while setting fire to a synagogue in the northern city of Rouen.

The Algerian reportedly threw an iron bar at officers and attempted to attack them with a knife, prompting officers to fire five shots.

No one else was injured and firefighters extinguished the blaze, which caused serious damage.

Officials described the arson attack as anti-Semitic.

Authorities had been seeking to deport the 29-year-old assailant since 24 January, when his appeal for a residence permit on grounds of ill health was rejected.

The assailant may have been riled by the Gaza war.

Tensions will remain high for the foreseeable future.

Personnel should give wide berth to all protests related to the Gaza war. To the extent practical, they should steer clear of Jewish and Islamic neighborhoods, houses of worship and schools.

 

ODDBALL ASSAILANTS

In a reminder of low-grade terrorism risks posed by assorted oddballs, security forces on 21 May arrested a man suspected of plotting an attack during the Olympic torch relay through the western city of Bordeaux.

Local prosecutors said the suspect possessed a weapon that could fire plastic bullets but apparently had not settled on an attack plan.

He attracted police attention through a menacing message he posted online in which he referred to the killing of seven people and wounding of 14 others in a stabbing and shooting spree in California in 2014. The assailant in that incident, who shot himself to death, was motivated by hated of women.

Based on the reference, prosecutors linked the suspect to the violent and misogynistic “incel” movement, made up of dangerously frustrated heterosexual men who blame women for their romantic and other failures.

The family of the suspect, who is in his twenties, said he had psychological problems.

 

RUSSIAN SUBVERSION

 

Macron on 4 April said he had “no doubt” that Russia was malevolently targeting the Paris Olympics, particularly through misinformation.

The Russian Olympic Committee on 12 October was suspended from the International Olympic Committee for assuming control of regional sports organizations in occupied Ukraine, meaning Russian athletes must compete in Paris as neutrals rather than under their flag.

Moscow thus has warped incentive to zero in on the Olympics as part of its open-ended campaign of subversion against the West.

That campaign includes planting misinformation in social media, funding far right and other extremists, playing dirty tricks and engaging in espionage.

Russia, however, is unlikely to instigate violence against the Olympics.

 

CYBERATTACKS

Russia and other bad-actor countries are unlikely to stage cyberattacks aimed at directly undermining the Olympics.

Criminals, hardcore activists and malcontents conceivably could stage small-scale cyberattacks, however.

 

MARGINAL AREAS

France has numerous ghettos, many in suburban areas, with extremely high crime rates. Residents of such ghettos tend to be economically and socially marginalized people of North African and sub-Saharan origin.

Constant friction between ghetto youths and police sporadically erupts in rioting.

Nine youths were arrested for involvement in an attack late on 17 March on police station in La Courneuve, a high-rise ghetto less than three miles from the Stade de France and 5.2 miles from central Paris.

Those arrested were among some 50 youths who attacked the police station with fireworks and other objects.

Chronic tensions between local youths and police escalated after the death on 13 March of an 18-year-old man on a motor scooter who refused to stop for a police check in the neighboring town of Aubervilliers and was stuck by another police car as he was riding away.

Personnel may attend Olympic events in marginal urban and suburban areas but should not stray beyond main drags with a heavy police presence. They should turn around immediately if they stray into marginal areas on foot or in a vehicle.

Marginal areas include – but are hardly limited to – the 9th, 10th and 18th arrondissements in northern Paris and the suburb of Saint Denis. Because notorious ghettos lie between central Paris and Charles de Gaulle International Airport, it is best to travel between the two points during daylight hours. Further, many gang members from the suburbs congregate in the Chatelet area due to the major train lines intersecting at the station there.

 

PETTY AND VIOLENT CRIME

The vast majority of corporate personnel who visit Paris do not fall victim to crime. Yet reasonable precautions are in order, since petty theft is routine and mugging occurs sporadically.

Although the police presence will be elevated, the exceptionally large crowds in the city for the Olympics will present opportunities for criminals. 

Foreigners are prime targets for professional gangs of pickpockets. Grabs occur everywhere, but are especially common on crowded sidewalks, in the environs of tourist attractions and aboard and near public transportation. Wallets and other attractive items also are lifted routinely in cafes and bars, as well as in department stores and small shops.

Pickpockets usually operate in teams, with one member plucking the targeted wallet, mobile phone or other object while a confederate or two create a distraction. Classic distractions include the bump, asking a question, dropping something and staging an argument or other spectacle.

There is no such thing as a typical petty thief. While it is true that Gypsies and other minorities are behind a disproportionate number of incidents, many perpetrators are well-dressed French whites who do not stand out in shops, museums and upscale eating and drinking establishments.

The skill of pickpockets and other petty thieves should not be underestimated. Victims often have no idea anything has been taken from them until minutes or even hours later.

It is important to note that petty thieves not only stealthily steal objects aboard public transportation but frequently grab items and run out just as doors are closing. Mobile phones frequently are taken in this manner. Even large suitcases can be grabbed.

Such incidents occur on the Paris Metro. But they are far more common aboard suburban RER trains, which young hooligans from housing projects ride for the sole purpose of robbing relatively affluent passengers.

Mugging occurs sporadically in isolated or grubby areas of central Paris, mostly late at night.

Muggings occur regularly at night at RER stations in the suburbs and to some degree at RER stations in central Paris. Strong-arm crime generally is less common in the Metro system, but there are incidents on platforms and in long pedestrian tunnels during off-peak hours.

Crime risks of all kinds can be reduced significantly through commonsense precautions.

Personnel should remain alert constantly. Wallets, cell phones and eye-catching accoutrements should be kept in front-pants or inner-coat pockets. Neck and belt pouches concealed by clothes are ideal for keeping cash, credit cards and identity documents. Handbags, laptop bags and cameras should be strapped across the body and positioned in front. Briefcases and other hand-carried possessions should be clutched firmly at all times. Eye-catching jewelry should not be worn. Leaning against a wall or sitting down when reading a map or talking on a mobile phone on the street or waiting for a train or bus reduces petty theft risks.

Generally speaking, it is safe to walk throughout central Paris, which roughly encompasses the 1st through 9th arrondissements (districts). Dodgy spots in central Paris that should be avoided at all hours include Gare Saint Lazare (in the 8th arrondissement) and Chatelet (in the 1st arrondissement). The vicinity of the Gare du Nord train hub (in the 9th arrondissement) is considered risky and is best bypassed. After dark, parks, alleys, dark courtyards and other isolated or poorly lit places in central Paris should be avoided.

It is prudent not to ride the Paris Metro, suburban RER trains and certain other public transportation after 2200. If the Paris Metro and RER trains must be taken after that hour, personnel should move through station tunnels alertly and gravitate toward other passengers on platforms and aboard trains.

The crime-infested 10th and 18th arrondissements in the city’s north and the suburb of Saint Denis should be avoided completely except for areas immediately around Olympics sporting venues.

If confronted by strong-arm thieves anywhere at any time, it is imperative not to resist, since that can turn a mugging into an assault. It even is foolhardy to punch or give chase to pickpockets, since they often have accomplices nearby.

Scams are common, with foreigners often targeted on the street or aboard or near public transportation.

Travelers should be distrustful of anyone approaching them. Those who find themselves caught up in a scam always have the option of abruptly walking away. 

Begging is extremely common and can rapidly transition to snatch-and-run theft. 

All beggars should be given wide berth.

Asians and Westerners of Asian origin should redouble precautions, since they are targeted disproportionally by petty thieves and muggers.

 

PROTESTS

Disruptive protests occur regularly in France and could occur in Paris during the Olympics.

Personnel should give wide berth to all protests.

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