France considers airport-style security scanners at stadiums

Measures would be in place for European Championships next summer

Stade de France stadium: “The Euros will take place under maximum security,” the French sports minister said.  Photograph:  Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Stade de France stadium: “The Euros will take place under maximum security,” the French sports minister said. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

 

French authorities are considering installing airport-style security scanners at all stadium turnstiles for the European Championships next summer. The proposal is being looked at as part of a wider review of security for the tournament in the wake of last Friday’s attacks in Paris.

A government minister rejected suggestions that the authorities should scrap plans for fan zones – open-air city-centre spaces where supporters can watch matches on big screens – but said security arrangements at the zones would be the same as for stadiums.

Investigators are still trying to identify two of the three suicide bombers who detonated explosive vests outside the Stade de France during a France v Germany match on Friday, killing the three assailants and one passerby. One of the attackers was Bilal Hadfi (20), a French national who lived in Belgium and travelled to Syria in 2014. He was known to the Belgian intelligence services as a suspected radical.

The French government and Uefa, European football’s governing body, have insisted Euro 2016 will go ahead as planned between June 10th and July 10th, but French sports minister Patrick Kanner said security would be strengthened in view of the terrorist threat. “The Euros will take place under maximum security, reinforced after the events we have just experienced. But there is no question of cancelling this wonderful popular celebration,” he said on a visit to the Stade de France, where he met staff who were on duty last Friday.

Security officials at the 80,000-capacity stadium, where the first group match and the final of the European Championships are to be played next summer, have been widely praised for ensuring the three suicide bombers could not gain entry. “We showed we were capable of securing our stadiums, and we will draw every lesson so as to go further on security,” Mr Kanner told reporters.

Responding to suggestions that the authorities should scrap a plan to set up open-air fan zones in large cities during the tournament, Mr Kanner said the government had previously ordered that these zones be subject to the same security protocols as stadiums, including pat-downs, bag searches and CCTV, and that security agents would also be present.

He said intensive work on security for the stadiums and fan zones had been under way for several months, and interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve was studying proposals for the installation of security scanners at turnstiles. “We saw on Friday that the Stade de France is well-secured. We need the same level everywhere,” Mr Kanner added.

Of the three cells involved in Friday’s co-ordinated attacks in Paris, most unanswered questions surround the one that targeted the Stade de France. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the stadium at 9.20pm, 9.30pm and 9.53pm, causing loud explosions that were clearly audible in the stadium during the match.

Police have yet to identify two of the three attackers. A Syrian passport, belonging to a 25-year-old named Ahmad Al Mohammad from the city of Idlib, was found near one of the bodies. This individual was registered entering Greece in October, but justice minister Christiane Taubira has indicated the passport was a fake.

The attackers’ precise intentions are also mysterious. One hypothesis is that the stadium attacks were designed to draw police and the emergency services away from central Paris, where four massacres and a suicide bombing took place. However, the attacks in the 10th and 11th districts took place almost simultaneously with those at the stadium, beginning at rue Alibert at 9.25pm.

The authorities are convinced the suicide bombers hoped to gain entry to the stadium. The Wall Street Journal reported that at least one of the men had a ticket but was turned away 15 minutes into the match after a security guard discovered his explosive vest. The bomber then blew himself up, the paper reported. However, L’Équipe said none of the terrorists had tickets.

Fans arriving at the Stade de France first scan their ticket on a electronic reader before proceeding to a security check. The area is covered by CCTV cameras, which will allow investigators to study the bombers’ movements in their final moments.

Another question for police is why the bombers did not wait for the crowd to begin leaving the stadium before detonating their explosives. Instead they blew themselves up in relatively isolated positions on an almost-deserted concourse outside the stadium.

French president François Hollande, who was at the match, left at half-time after he was informed about the attacks. The teams’ staff and coaches were informed about the bombings at half-time but decided not to tell the players until full-time. Poor mobile reception in the stadium meant most fans were unaware of the developing attacks until they left the ground.

Ireland will be in the fourth pot of seeds when the draw for the European Championships takes place in Paris on December 12th.