Terror attacks headline threats to upcoming Paris Olympics

Washington — There are new warnings about potential attacks aimed at disrupting the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Paris, including the potential for more terror plots like the one disrupted last week by French officials.

A report released Tuesday by the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future states that despite a high likelihood of cyberattacks, the greatest risk to the Paris Games will come from in-person threats instead of from cyberspace.

“We assess that physical security threats — including terrorism, violent extremism, civil unrest and disruptive protests — pose the greatest risk of harm and disruption,” the report from Recorded Future’s Insikt Group said.

“Terrorists and violent extremists — particularly IS [Islamic State] and al-Qaida supporters in France and neighboring European countries — will almost certainly continue to plot and incite violent attacks targeting the Paris Olympics,” the report added. “Though extensive security infrastructure in place for the event will make a successful mass-casualty attack very unlikely.”

The warning from Insikt Group comes as French authorities have already announced the disruption of at least two terror plots targeting the upcoming Games.

In late April, French anti-terrorism forces arrested a 16-year-old from the town of Marignier after he announced on social media that he planned to build an explosive belt and die as a suicide bomber at an Olympic venue.

And just last week, French security officials arrested an 18-year-old, charging him of planning an attack in the name of IS at the Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium in Saint-Etienne.

Additionally, Insikt Group warns that IS has been pumping out propaganda, “urging its supporters to recreate the November 2015 series of terrorist attacks in Paris that included a suicide bombing at the Stade de France — the main venue for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.”

And while there is no convincing evidence yet of any large-scale plot against the upcoming Olympics, the terror group has been inciting supporters across Western Europe to carry out attacks by leveraging connections through the internet and social media.

U.S. officials further warn the IS group’s Afghan affiliate, known as IS-Khorasan or ISIS-K, has been building momentum from its deadly attacks on Kerman, Iran, in January and on a Moscow concert hall in March.

“We see the ISIS network sort of resettling after a period of disquiet,” National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid warned during a security forum last month in Doha.

“This ability of the global ISIS enterprise, even without territorial solidity, the ability to reach out virtually to a network of supporters, some of whom are going to conduct attacks, is quite concerning,” she said, calling ISIS-K’s ability to reestablish itself in Afghanistan “probably the most significant additive capability we’ve seen to the global ISIS network in the last three years.”

There are also concerns that other extremists could be motivated by the ongoing war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, a U.S. designated terror group that has controlled Gaza since 2006.

Tuesday’s report by Insikt Group calls potential attacks targeting Israelis or Americans due to the war in Gaza “very unlikely but within the realm of possibility.”

Groups connected to Iran, including the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group or supporters of various Palestinian terror organizations “would likely view the Paris Olympics as an attractive venue,” the report said, though it emphasized it had not identified any intelligence suggesting such groups are preparing to act.

Cyber threats

In addition to the potential for various groups to attempt to carry out physical attacks on the Paris Games, Insikt Group warns that hackers, sometimes working for criminal enterprises and other times working for other countries, are likely to target the Olympics.

Cyber threats to the Olympics include disruptive cyberattacks by various hacktivist groups as well as ransomware attacks, cyber espionage and influence operations.

“Russia, China and Iran are likely to leverage Olympic-themed phishing lures or infrastructure to carry out espionage activities during the Paris Olympics,” according to the report.

“Networks based in Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan are also likely to work overtly and covertly to amplify narratives critical of France, NATO and Israel,” the report said.

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