Climate warriors and Gaza mob could ‘create conditions’ for terrorism at Paris Olympics

There is a convergence between terrorism and pro-Palestinian protests, say security experts


A rioting demonstrator holds a logo of a McDonald's fast food restaurant after the restaurant was ransacked within a demonstration called by Kanak organisations, "Urgence Palestine" group and anti-fascist movements in Paris on June 1, 2024. (Photo by Zakaria ABDELKAFI / AFP) (Photo by ZAKARIA ABDELKAFI/AFP via Getty Images)

“We are facing a perfect storm,” Laurence Bindner, a Parisian counter-extremism expert, told the JC.

“As we prepare for the Olympic Games, a very special kind of target, we have seen a surge in extremist propaganda, an attempt to motivate the ummah by making it feel guilty about the images of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

“Of course we face the usual jihadist suspects. But there is also a convergence between terrorism and pro-Palestinian protests. It can sometimes be difficult to draw a boundary between them.”

Such protests, the JC can reveal, are being planned for the Olympics, due to open on July 26, amid the tension following Macron’s decision to hold a divisive election just before the Games.

There have already been riots following the surprise defeat of the far right and the rise of the hard left in the vote on the weekend. Radical protests may start out non-violent, added Bindner, who founded Jihadoscope, a think tank that monitors jihadist activity across the internet. However, by bringing the city to a standstill, she said, they could “create the conditions where terrorist attacks become even more dangerous”.

Counter-terror expert Marc Hecker, of the French Institute of International Relations, agreed that direct-action protests could worsen the consequences of a terrorist attack.

“Given the numbers of people who will be there, direct action that paralyses the Metro or the rest of the transport system could create a stampede,” he said. “This means that an attack by terrorists might then become more lethal.”

A non-violent symbolic protest – such as a rumoured plan to dye the Seine red while barges containing each country’s team float down it during the opening ceremony – could also make a huge international impact, Hecker told the JC.

Plans for political protests aimed at causing maximum disruption to the Games are at an advanced stage of planning, involving both anti-Israel groups and environmentalists. High-profile eco-warriors such as Greta Thunberg have publicly embraced the Palestinian cause since October 7.

Research by the UK-based risk consultancy Welund indicates that one of the biggest protests is being organised for July 27, the day after the opening ceremony. It will aim to highlight both climate change and Israel’s participation in the Games.

Behind the protest is the French branch of Extinction Rebellion, whose tactics in the recent past suggest it is significantly more militant in its approach to direct action than its British counterpart. In May, XR France members smashed their way past a police cordon to disrupt the annual general meeting of the energy company Total, breaking windows and daubing graffiti on the walls. Eight security guards were injured and police made 173 arrests.

On its own website, XR says that the “massive occupation” planned for July 27 will be only the start of a campaign aimed at wrecking the “forbidden Olympics”. In an incident illustrating Bindner’s argument that the boundary between anti-Israel activism and violence can be blurred, last month a French pro-Palestinian group called Attaque claimed responsibility for burning two heavy goods trucks belonging to a subsidiary of the French construction giant Vinci, one of the Games’ official sponsors. According to Attaque’s statement, it wanted to highlight the fact that “while the massacres in Palestine continue”, Vinci was “profiting from this permanent war”. The Games, it went on, were “an issue to counter them and struggle against everything… With or without flames, before, during and after the Olympics, let’s contribute to destroying the State that only serves the military-industrial interests of shit. We greet all those who are attempting to slow down the crushing of all resistance and all joy.”

Also active is a campaign to ban Israel from the Games led by the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), and the Muslim European Forum (MEF). Arguing “there can be no Olympics as usual while Israel continues to escalate its genocide against Palestinians in Gaza”, this campaign is calling on supporters to organise protests and sit-in occupations both before and during Games events in an attempt to “kick Israeli apartheid out of sports”.

In June, the campaign held the second of two protests outside the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne. Participants painted their hands red to symbolise the casualties of the war in Gaza, claiming that Israeli athletes had blood on their hands and should not be allowed to compete. Afterwards MEF leader Anna Stamou said that because allowing Israel to participate “sacrificed Olympic ideals”, the usual “Olympic truce” – a tradition dating back to the original Games in ancient Greece – “will be ignored this year”.

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