France Tightens Security, Launches Terror Alert App Ahead of Euro 2016 Soccer Tournament
The opening match between France and Romania will be held Friday night at the stadium where terrorists launched the Paris attacks seven months ago.
Fears of a repeat of the deadly Bataclan attacks in Paris seven months ago have cast a pall over preparations for the 2016 European Soccer Championships, the monthlong quadrennial soccer tournament that kicks off Friday.
Euro 2016, as it is widely called, is the latest edition of one of the most-watched sporting events on the continent. A cumulative viewing audience of 8.1 billion people watched Euro 2012 on television, and 1.4 million fans traveled to Poland and Ukraine to watch the matches. This year, 24 nations are in the tournament.
This time around, nearly 2.5 million fans are expected to turn out for games being held across France over the next month. That includes around 1.5 million foreign fans. To try and keep them safe, the French interior ministry has tightened security.
Ahead of Friday's opening match between host nation France and Romania in the Stade de France, the very soccer stadium outside of which a terrorist blew himself up in November's attacks, France has deployed 42,000 police, 30,000 SWAT-style gendarmes, a 12,000-strong private security force and 10,000 so-called Sentinelle soldiers, a special division of the French military set up in response to the Bataclan attacks.
Stadiums hosting Euro 2016 matches have been surrounded with vans, unmarked police cars and officers in bulletproof vests set to search each bag and check every ticket and ID before allowing access to the venues. Organizers have told fans to expect wait times of up to three hours for some matches.
The French government this week also unveiled a smartphone app to alert users about possible terror attacks during the tournament. Called SAIP, the app was developed following the Bataclan attacks in November. It can send alerts to users' phones less than 15 minutes after an incident is confirmed, tailoring information to the user's specific geographical location. Users can share alerts from the app directly on social media. Family and friends can also use the app to check up on loved ones during an attack.
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said SAIP will "keep the public up to date with what we know." The app is available for free, in French and English, for Android and iOS phones.
The city of Paris initially spoke of the possibility of closing down fan zones — public areas where people can watch the matches on cinema-size screens — but after reassurance from the interior ministry, officials confirmed that fan zones will stay open.
At the Stade de France, authorities have set up an external security perimeter and erected a 7.8-foot high wall around the area. France also has deployed an additional 5,000 border police to try and keep the bad guys out.
The threat is real. This week, a Frenchman was arrested on the Ukraine border with Poland carrying 275 pounds of TNT and, according to local authorities, planning to carry out terror attacks during the tournament. The man was, reportedly, a right-wing extremist who intended to target Muslim and Jewish place of worship, as well as public buildings.
French president Francois Hollande said the country would not allow itself to be intimidated by terrorists but admitted the threat of an attack exists. Earlier this week, the British government issued an alert warning of a "high threat from terrorism" at the Euro 2016 tournament.The U.S. State Department has issued an alert to citizens traveling to Europe this month that there is a “risk of potential terrorist attacks” and advised people to avoid “Euro Cup stadiums, fan zones and unaffiliated entertainment venues broadcasting the tournaments in France and across Europe,” which could be potential targets.
France, which has been under a state of emergency since the November attacks, extended the state of high alert through July 26, after the final match of Euro 2016, which will take place on July 10.