The French emergency services have begun holding training drills simulating terrorist attacks on Euro 2016 supporters ahead of the tournament this summer. One drill has played out a scenario similar to the Paris attacks of last year in which jihadis used bombs and guns to kill more than 100 people; another has simulated a sarin gas attack.
Emergency planning surrounding the games has been given a heightened sense of urgency thanks to confirmation by one of the Brussels terrorists that they had the footballing competition in their sights, The Times has reported.
Mohamed Abrini admitted to being the “man in the hat” who entered Brussels airport last month to detonate bombs, although he fled the scene when his bomb failed to explode. He later admitted to being part of the Paris attacks which killed 130 people last November, and confessed that the Brussels ring had originally planned to hit French targets again, but changed their plans and sprung into action following the arrest of another Paris bomber in Brussels.
The French daily Libération has reported that he specifically named the Euro 2016 football championships, to be held across France this summer, as an original prime target for his terrorist cell, confirming suspicions by the French authorities that the games were within their sights.
So far three training exercises simulating terrorist attacks have been held across the country, with thousands of volunteers enlisted to help stage the events.
Two of the drills, held in Nimes in southern France and Geoffroy-Guichard stadium in St Etienne (where England will play Georgia in the tournament), played out scenarios in which terrorists used drones to deliver sarin gas into the stadiums before crashing them into the stands.
Sarin gas, which is invisible and odourless, attacks the system by triggering a surge in mucus production, causing victims in effect to drown in their own fluids. The effects can be countered if victims are injected with atropine in time.
1,200 volunteers took part in the Nimes event; organisers there said the response plan was based on predictions that 262 people would be affected; they put the number of likely deaths at 180.
The third drill, held in Bordeaux, role-played an attack on a ‘fan zone,’ an official spot where supporters without tickets can gather to watch the games on big screens. With as many as seven million supporters without tickets estimated to descend on France, fan zones have been planned for a number of locations across the country.
Last month an intelligence officer told AFP that there were particular security concerns about the zones, as, although the public will be subject to searches and will have to pass through metal detectors, he admitted that the areas will be difficult to protect completely .
The scenario played out at Bordeaux envisaged terrorists activating suicide vests, firing into the crowd and taking hostages, in much the same way as the attack on Paris last November was staged. That attack resulted in 130 deaths.
Three of the ten terrorists who carried out the Paris attack detonated their vests outside the national football stadium during a match between France and Germany. The plan had been to enter the stadium and blow themselves up inside, but tight security made it impossible for them to enter without a ticket.