France scales back Olympics opening ceremony over terror fears

France scales back Olympics opening ceremony over terror fears

Organisers and the Paris mayor’s office had initially imagined up to two million people in attendance. One senior French security figure told AFP recently that organisers had “eyes bigger than their stomachs” when planning the opening and that their initial crowd estimates were “too high”.

The idea of a spectacular open-air parade with hundreds of boats worried the French security establishment because of the difficulty in controlling the crowds and the risk of terror attacks. France was placed on its highest alert for terror attacks in October after a suspected Islamist burst into a school in northern France and stabbed a teacher to death.

Last month, Mr Darmanin had already indicated that the numbers would be far less, predicting that “around 300,000” ticketed fans would attend.

“I know that we have the best security forces in the world and that we will succeed in showing not only that we can win medals [at the Olympics] but that we can play host to the world without any problems,” Mr Darmanin told the France 2 channel.

Speaking to the parliamentary committee on Tuesday, he said: “I don’t say this lightly: this is the biggest logistical and security challenge the interior ministry has ever faced.”

Mr Darmanin said that France had identified groups with operational centres outside the country that would like to mount attacks, notably al-Qaeda and ISIS, but added that they do not have the “means” to do so “at this stage”.

Céline Berthon, the director general of France’s domestic intelligence service (DGSI), told the hearing that there was concern of home-grown lone wolves, particularly young radicals hard to spot.

There are also concerns about potential trouble from environmental militants and other far-Left or far-Right protesters.

Some 89,000 security checks have already been launched, notably on volunteers and security agents for the Games. In all the number of such checks should rise to a million, said Le Monde, the French daily newspaper.

In all, around 45,000 security forces are expected to be on duty for the opening ceremony of the Olympics from July 26 to Aug 11. There will be 650 elite police, 10 boats and four helicopters, including two with snipers on board.

Airspace will be closed within a 150-kilometre radius around the French capital.

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