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Safe Celebrations: 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics

Safe Celebrations: 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics

Overview

The Olympics are intended to foster global unity and friendly competition among nations. However, the high degree of media attention, large crowds, presence of dignitaries and VIPs, and symbolism of the Olympics make the games an attractive target for an array of threat actors. This year’s games also take place in the backdrop of major conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. Despite this elevated threat landscape, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable Olympic experience through a number of practical steps.   

Key Event Information

  • The 2024 Summer Olympics will take place between July 26th and August 11th.
  • The Paralympics will subsequently run from August 28th until September 8th. 
  • Events will mainly be spread across Paris and its periphery (e.g., Versailles and Vaires-sur-Marne). 
  • There are also activities in Lyon, Nantes, Saint-Étienne, Bordeaux, Marseille, Nice, Châteauroux, Villeneuve-d'Ascq (near Lille), and Tahiti. 
  • Further information on Olympic locations can be found here and here. Key venues for the Paralympics can be viewed here
  • The number of permitted spectators1 and other aspects of the games, such as venues2, are subject to change due to the evolving threat landscape.

2024 Paris Summer Olympics: Venues, Relevant Infrastructure, and Points of Interest

Previous Incidents at Olympic Games

Deadly attacks have occurred at past Olympic games:

During the 1972 Olympics in Munich, members of the Israeli team were held hostage by the Islamic terrorist group Black September. Black September’s goal was to secure the release of 200 Palestinian prisoners3

  • Two Israelis were killed during the initial hostage taking at their apartments within the Olympic Village. Nine more died during a failed rescue mission by West German Police. 

A pipe bomb went off at Centennial park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. One person was killed and 111 were wounded. The loss of life would’ve been higher had the bomb not been detected by a security guard. 

  • The perpetrator, Eric Rudolph, subsequently bombed two abortion clinics and a gay bar between 1997 and 1998. 
  • At two of these bombings, Rudolph left secondary explosive devices intended to kill first responders arriving at the scene4

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there were two lethal incidents5

  • On August 9th, an American was killed by a knife attack. The perpetrator, Tang Yongming, subsequently committed suicide near the scene of the crime. There is no known nexus between the perpetrator and any terrorist groups. 
  • On August 13th, a bomb killed two people in Qinhuangdao (near Beijing). The intent behind the bombing is still unknown. 
  • The Turkestan Islamic Party (a separatist group in China), conducted a series of terrorist attacks in China in the months leading up to the Olympics and threatened public transportation related to the Games6.

Security Measures and Parisian Crime

Security perimeters will be established in Paris beginning on July 18th7, alongside counterterrorism measures such as restricted areas and vehicle prohibitions8. Major travel disruptions and delays are expected along the Seine. 

There will also be a surge in police, military, and private security forces. France alone is expected to deploy 80,000 combined personnel per day from these sectors, with other nations contributing material support, personnel, and intelligence9

Although terrorism is a major concern for authorities, it’s also important to keep the threat of petty criminals in mind. Crime in Paris is largely characterized by theft, and visitors should be wary of pickpockets, especially in crowded areas, such as pedestrian malls, train stations, and the metro. The influx of tourists and elevated emotions will likely increase drug & alcohol violations and other petty crimes.

Theft is the most commonly reported crime in Paris, with more than 112,000 incidents reported in 2023.

Threat Actors

Analysis of open-source intelligence (OSINT) and data within Base Operations’ proprietary platform indicates that ISIS and Russia are two of the most prominent threat actors related to the Summer Olympics. 

Russia

  • In response to Russia’s Olympic participation ban and France’s support of Ukraine, the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center assesses that Russia will engage in disinformation campaigns to scare celebrants10
  • Mandiant, a cybersecurity subsidiary of Google, assesses that Russian operators will likely conduct cyber espionage and intelligence operations11. Additionally, operators may engage in cyber attacks against operational systems and critical infrastructure that could threaten physical security.   
  • Earlier this month, a Russian man from eastern Ukraine was arrested for allegedly plotting a bomb attack against the Summer Olympics. He was detected, in part, after severely burning himself while preparing explosive materials12. It’s unclear if this actor has ties to any state or terrorist group.  

ISIS

ISIS13 (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has a history of conflict with France. Some major incidents include:  

  • On November 13th, 2015, a Belgian ISIS cell killed approximately 130 people and injured 416 others with firearms and suicide bombs in Paris. The coordinated attack took place across multiple locations, including at the Stade de France during an international football match.  
  • On July 14th, 2016, an extremist drove a cargo truck down Nice’s pedestrian promenade. This attack resulted in the deaths of 86 people and the injury of 434 others. 
  • A month before this, a police officer and his partner were stabbed to death in Magnanville by an ISIS sponsored assailant. 
  • On December 11th, 2018, a terrorist who pledged allegiance to ISIS killed 5 people and wounded another 11 at a Christmas market in Strasbourg. 
  • On December 3rd, 2023, a man inspired by ISIS killed one person and injured two others near the Eiffel Tower14

ISIS has been involved in several recent high-profile global incidents

  • On March 22nd, an ISIS branch (Islamic State – Khorasan Province or ISIS-K) attacked the Crocus City Hall music venue in Moscow, Russia. The attack resulted in approximately 146 deaths and injured over 550 people. 
  • On March 26th, in response to the Moscow attack, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that ISIS-K attempted several plots in France within recent months15.
  • In early April, ISIS released propaganda threatening football championship matches in Europe16.
  • On May 22nd, French authorities arrested an 18 year old suspected of preparing a terrorist attack on the Summer Olympics on behalf of ISIS.17
  • On June 11th, it was reported that 8 suspected ISIS members were arrested in New York City, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.18 
  • In mid-April, an individual with alleged ISIS ties was also arrested in Baltimore.19

Unrest in France and Contributing Factors:

Outside of external threat actors, France has domestic issues related to separatist movements (e.g., Corsica and New Caledonia20) and ultra-right extremism.21 These issues may be exacerbated by the snap elections recently called for by President Macron.22 One round of voting will occur on June 30th, with the second on July 7th. These elections could pose a serious distraction to French leadership and security personnel. On June 15th alone, nearly 250,000 left-leaning and anti-racism protestors rallied in France against the far-right in preparation for the impending parliamentary elections.23

Due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, France has also experienced an uptick in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic incidents.24 

Leveraging Base Operation’s platform25, analysts were able to assess 11,914 unrest events in France between 1/1/23 and 5/24/24. Some of the key insights that were derived include:

  • 10,732 peaceful protests (~90% of all events). 
  • 888 events since October 7th have been related wholly or partially to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. 835 of these events (or ~94%) have been peaceful. 
  • 480 unrest events occurred in Paris.
  • 396 (or 82.5%) of these events were peaceful. 
  • The 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 8th Arrondissements had the highest risk for unrest activity. 
  • The 4th Arrondissement is the city’s top district for unrest events. It’s the site of Notre-Dame de Paris and a number of places with immense historical significance. It also has a large LGBTQIA+ and Jewish community presence. 
  • The 7th Arrondissement is the second highest district for unrest events. It’s home to major landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Invalides, Palais Bourbon (where the French National Assembly is located), and Pont Alexandre III. Additionally, multiple government agencies are headquartered there (e.g., the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs).
  • Of the 181 unrest events in Corsica, 118 (or 65%) were peaceful.
Between 1/1/23 and 5/24/25, Base Operations assesses that there were 1,182 unrest events in France involving violence, property destruction, or police intervention.
Areas of Paris colored by Threat Level for unrest activity. 45 unrest events occurred within the 7th Arrondissement (nearly ~10 of the 480 assessed). 271 (or ~56%) took place within the 4th Arrondissement.
Unrest activity is heavily concentrated along the Seine River, which is home to many landmarks and major cultural institutions.  Several Olympic venues will also be located along or near the River. 
Paris Unrest: Jan 1 - May 24, 2024
There were 60 unrest events within 1.5 miles of the Arc de Triomphe. 50 of these events were peaceful protests. There were also five protests requiring intervention, four violent demonstrations, and one attack. The attack was the 12/3/23 terrorist incident, during which a tourist was killed and two others were injured by an attacker who pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Lyon’s 1st and 2nd Arrondissements have the highest risk for unrest activity.
Between 1/1/23 and 5/22/24, Lyon experienced 151 unrest events. 107 of these events (~70%) were peaceful. The remaining 44 were involved violence, property destruction, or police intervention. 

Recommendations

Public safety and security professionals are advised:

  • Outside of the Olympic games, cultural institutions and nightlife establishments may host thematic events that will attract large crowds. A list of Cultural Olympiad events can be found here.  July 14th is Bastille Day, which will also contribute to large crowds and the number of high-risk events across France. Conflict between Russia and Ukraine, as well as Hamas and Israel, is ongoing
  • Although terrorist groups may attempt to use firearms and explosives, these actors have resorted to more widely available means of violence such as bladed weapons and vehicles. 
  • In response to a terror alert or kidnapping, French authorities will activate the 197 hotline. If you have any pertinent information, please call the number to reach specialized investigators. 
  • English proficiency in France can vary based on region, age group, and industry. The country’s overall English proficiency score is Moderate.26 It’s recommended that security teams incorporate personnel with French language skills and cultural insights. 

Members of the public attending the games are advised

  • Report any suspicious activity to law enforcement by calling 17 or 112. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing can call, text, or fax 114. 
  • Consult State Department advisories and guidance, such as this recent alert.
  • Subscribe to emergency alert systems, such as FR-Alert, and relevant government social media channels. For example, Ministère de l'Intérieur - Alerte.
  • Preplan multiple travel routes to events and stay aware of emergency exits at venues.
  • Memorize some key phrases in French to use in case of an emergency. A helpful list can be found here.  
  • Limit exposure to pickpockets by keeping valuables including phones, wallets, cash and passports in zippered pockets or bags in front of your body.  Beware of distraction techniques assailants use to mast their activities.
  • Keep identification on you at all times.
  • Use this link to find the nearest police station.

Footnotes

  1. https://apnews.com/article/olympics-paris-oepning-ceremony-downsizing-0cc56fee1fb6a980274c67546c24bc10
  1. https://apnews.com/article/paris-olympics-security-opening-ceremony-64f108046459499da0a3f50b571dfc17
  1. https://www.start.umd.edu/sites/default/files/publications/local_attachments/STARTBackgroundReport_TerrorisminOlympicsSochiRussia_January2014.pdf#page=5
  1. https://www.atf.gov/our-history/eric-rudolph
  1. https://www.start.umd.edu/sites/default/files/publications/local_attachments/STARTBackgroundReport_TerrorisminOlympicsSochiRussia_January2014.pdf
  1. https://www.france24.com/en/20080808-chinese-islamists-threaten-olympics-terrorism-olympics-2008
  1. https://apnews.com/article/paris-olympics-france-ceremony-security-7a403518f672f2422e4ad55a2b435186
  1. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/sports/article/2024/04/26/paris-2024-all-the-details-on-the-opening-ceremony-s-security-perimeters_6669625_9.html
  1. https://www.reuters.com/world/france-boost-olympics-security-with-foreign-military-police-support-2024-03-29/
  1. https://cdn-dynmedia-1.microsoft.com/is/content/microsoftcorp/microsoft/final/en-us/microsoft-brand/documents/MTAC_Report_Russian_Influence_and_Paris_2024.pdf
  1. https://cloud.google.com/blog/topics/threat-intelligence/cyber-threats-2024-paris-olympics
  1. https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20240607-france-charges-ukrainian-russian-man-with-terror-related-crimes
  1. Please note that some agencies use the acronyms IS, ISIL, or Daesh to refer to ISIS.
  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-67604591
  1. https://www.politico.eu/article/emmanuel-macron-islamic-state-moscow-attack-russia-france/
  1. https://www.politico.eu/article/france-football-security-isis-terror-threat-champions-league/
  1. https://apnews.com/article/paris-olympics-st-etienne-foiled-plot-b802119bfa66922c774573acdac37247
  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/8-suspected-terrorists-possible-isis-ties-arrested-new-york-l-philadel-rcna156635
  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/migrant-alleged-isis-ties-living-us-two-years-officials-say-rcna150281
  1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/article/2024/jun/13/new-caledonia-unrest-emmanuel-macron-voting-reforms-suspended
  1. https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2022/france/
  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2024/06/12/frances-macron-says-he-wont-quit-if-his-party-loses-in-snap-election-vote-.html
  1. https://apnews.com/article/france-protest-far-right-election-e064dc74857dc963b2a331f4cdf572d1
  1. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/french-police-neutralised-armed-person-who-tried-set-fire-synagogue-rouen-2024-05-17/
  2. Base Operations incorporates unrest data sourced from ACLED
  3. https://www.ef.com/assetscdn/WIBIwq6RdJvcD9bc8RMd/cefcom-epi-site/fact-sheets/2023/ef-epi-fact-sheet-france-english.pdf

Takeaways

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