Paris: While moribund in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State (IS) group poses a real threat to Russia’s World Cup that must be taken seriously, security experts have warned.
Alarm bells have been ringing since disturbing photo-montages began to appear on social media late last year. Crude and explicit, they showed superstars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar dressed in the frighteningly familiar orange suits used for videotaped executions. Lying on the ground, with knives up against their throats or dying in flames, the message accompanying them was blunt. “You will not enjoy security until we live it in Muslim countries,” the posts said.
Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Troy Souza, authors of a report published last month by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC) on the dangers IS poses to the June 14 to July 15 World Cup, said the propaganda campaign unfurled was ‘unprecedented’.
“In just the past few years, there have been numerous successful terror attacks or thwarted plots in Russia by terrorists linked to or inspired by the Islamic State,” they wrote. “This suggests the group may have the capacity to launch attacks in Russia during the World Cup,” they added.
In just the past few years, there have been numerous successful terror attacks in Russia. So the IS has the capacity to launch attacks during the World Cup
Brian Glyn Williams & Robert Troy Souza, Security experts
These attacks, said the US experts, can be either carried out by ‘lone wolves’ or by local jihadists.
‘Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies’ has said that around 8,500 jihadists from Russia and the former Soviet central Asia have joined the ranks of IS and other jihadist groups in the region.
The exact number of those who have managed to slip through anti-terror services’ hands and safely return to their homelands is unclear.
But experts are certain that prior to its territorial rout, IS instructed some of its fighters to go back and form sleeper cells that could be called upon when needed – such as during a World Cup.
“The threat of terror now exists for all international sports competitions. They attract the cameras and, therefore, the terrorists,” said Pascal Boniface, director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs,
In Moscow, the authorities are trying to strike a reassuring tone. They point out that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi passed off without a hitch.
“Our security operation is taking into account all types of possible dangers and risks,” World Cup organising committee chief Alexei Sorokin told this agency. “Everything is under control and I hope that we will find the right balance between comfort and security.”