Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Next month, Poland and Ukraine will host one of the biggest events in the world of sport – the Euro 2012 soccer championships. Hundreds of thousands of fans will flock to the two host countries, and their eagerly anticipated arrival will constitute a major headache for security agencies in Warsaw and Kiev.
Most of the threats related to their arrival will be of a relatively low-key nature as Polish and Ukrainian police units might be forced to assist with crowd control or perform riot control duties. In addition, the host nations’ security services could face an exponentially increased terrorist threat, a possibility that seems to have captured the imagination of many commentators, especially in the light of the recent attacks in the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk.
An unlikely target?
No serious expert would discount such an eventuality, but one needs to realize that the threat of terrorism that Poland and Ukraine face during Euro 2012 may have relatively little in common with elaborate plots involving hijacked planes crashing into the National Stadium or scores of lorries filled with explosives detonating in downtown Warsaw, which some regard as serious “potentialities.”
Of course, it is perfectly possible for various terrorist organizations or networks to attempt headline-grabbing attacks during Euro 2012. They may not necessarily target the host nations, Poland and Ukraine, but could use the tournament as an arena for making bloody political statements and/or “punishing” various European governments and nationals for their domestic or foreign policies.
In short, Poland, according to Europol (European Police Office), with zero individuals tried, convicted or acquitted of terrorism charges in 2011, is hardly a magnet for terrorists or terrorism, but could effectively become a proxy target for foreign terrorists. It might simply be more convenient for the likes of global jihadists to target scores of supporters and tourists outside their home countries.
However, if serious terrorist plots are to materialize during Euro 2012, then any terrorist entity planning spectacular attacks must now be in the final stages of meticulous attack preparation, which usually involves a considerable number of individuals acting suspiciously and leaving behind traces.
These attract the attention of the security services, which consequently proceed – as has been the case on many occasions in Europe in the last decade – to dismantle the given terrorist plot. The Polish Internal Security Agency conducted five “terrorist” investigations in 2011, but there is no serious speculation about whether any of them is related to Euro 2012.
In theory, security services might miss or underappreciate the potential for a deadly terrorist plot. Vivid examples include 9/11, the July 2005 bombings in Britain, and the 2004 Madrid train bombings, all stark reminders of such danger. Nonetheless, no established terrorist organization has yet targetted Poland explicitly. The country has never suffered from its own wave of separatist or leftist terrorism, and at the moment al-Qaeda’s regional affiliates in Iraq, Northern Africa, Somalia and Yemen seem more interested in growing locally before expanding globally.
It is true, however, that in the past al-Qaeda’s leader-Ayman al Zawahiri, has called for attacks on Poland in revenge for the latter’s “occupation” of Iraq. But his organization probably lacks the resources to dispatch a terrorist team to Poland and is not in a position to “order” its non-existent Central European cells into action.
Nonetheless, his call could serve as inspiration for an individual “lone wolf” terrorist, a jihadist whose plans are by definition extremely difficult to detect or disrupt. Such individuals following the recent examples of either Anders Breivik in Norway or Mohammed Merah in France, constitute probably the gravest terrorism-related security threat to Poland and Ukraine during Euro 2012.
The Polish and Ukrainian security communities may not be able to completely prevent such attacks from taking place, but with the help of vigilant supporters, often coming from countries with far more experience in countering both domestic and foreign terrorist threats than Poland or Ukraine, the host countries may be able to successfully deter potential terrorists and focus on less spectacular threats during Euro 2012.
Kacper Rękawek is an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs
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