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Preliminary terrorism charges filed against man accused of Olympics attack plan

Gendarmes patrol at Mont Saint-Michel before the Olympic torch relay arrives (Jeremias Gonzalez/AP)
Gendarmes patrol at Mont Saint-Michel before the Olympic torch relay arrives (Jeremias Gonzalez/AP)

French authorities on Friday raised preliminary terrorism charges against an 18-year-old accused of a plot targeting spectators attending football games at the forthcoming Paris Olympics.

The interior minister said it was the first such thwarted plot targeting the Games, which start in eight weeks, as France is on its highest threat alert level.

The man is accused of planning a “violent action” on behalf of the so-called Islamic State group’s jihadist ideology, the national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

The man, who was not identified, is being held in custody pending further investigation.

Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said in a statement that members of the General Directorate of Internal Security arrested an 18-year-old man from Chechnya on May 22 on suspicion of being behind a plan to attack football events that will be held in the southern city of Saint-Etienne.

Olympics security
Police patrol near the Eiffel Tower in Paris (Michel Euler/AP)

According to the initial investigation, the man was preparing an attack targeting the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium that will host several football matches during the Games.

The planned attack was to target spectators and police forces, the statement said. The man wanted to attack the Olympic events “to die and become a martyr”, the statement also said.

France is on its highest security alert ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics, which are expected to draw millions of visitors, and run from July 26 to August 11.

Football matches will take place in cities across France before the final in Paris’ Stade de France.

Mr Darmanin did not cite a specific security threat against the football event, but has said there are multiple potential threats, including those from Islamic extremist groups, violent environmental activists, far-right groups and cyberattacks from Russia or other adversaries.

The Paris Olympics organising committee said it was made aware of the arrest and praised intelligence and security services.

“Security is the highest priority of Paris 2024. We are working daily in close co-ordination with the interior ministry and all stakeholders and will continue to be fully mobilised,” it said in a statement.

Security concerns are notably high for the exceptional opening ceremony, which will bring more than 100 world leaders to the French capital.

It involves boats carrying athletes along the Seine River in a 3.7-mile open-air parade and huge crowds watching from the embankments.

In April, French President Emmanuel Macron said the July 26 opening ceremony could be moved instead to the country’s national stadium if the security threat is deemed too high.

Organisers had originally planned to host as many as 600,000 people, most watching free of charge from riverbanks.

But security and logistical concerns have led the government to progressively scale back its ambitions. Earlier this year, the overall number of spectators was reduced to about 300,000.

The French government also decided that tourists will not be given free access to watch the opening ceremony because of security concerns. Free access will be invitation-only instead.

Extra security is also on hand for the Olympic torch relay, which passed on Friday through the monastery outcrop of Mont Saint-Michel, which draws thousands of tourists daily.