ISIS-K and the challenges on the road to UEFA EURO 2024

ISIS is back in the headlines. In the context of the UEFA EURO 2024 in Germany, one question now arises: How safe are football stadiums, fan miles and city centres?

While many Germans are hoping for a repeat of the “summer fairytale” of 2006, security authorities are preparing for all eventualities. The threat of Islamist terrorism remains acute, also in Germany, announced Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser after the deadly attack in Moscow. In particular, a regional branch of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) is moving to the centre of attention.

What is ISIS-K?

In recent years, a new terrorist group in Central Asia has made a name for itself as a competitor to the Taliban: the Islamic State – Khorasan Province (or ISIS-K) is said to have up to 6,000 fighters, but its structures are opaque. Not even the leader of the organisation can be clearly identified. ISIS-K’s ambitious goal is to establish a caliphate in the historic province of Khorasan, which includes parts of Iran as well as Afghanistan and other Central Asian states. It was only in January that members of the terrorist group carried out a bloody attack in Iran, killing 84 people. In addition to the Taliban and the Iranian mullah regime, Russia and the West are also among ISIS-K’s declared enemies.

Attack with Advance Notice: Crocus City Hall

At the beginning of the month, Russian police carried out a raid against suspected ISIS-K members in Kaluga, Western Russia. A short time later, the US embassy in Moscow warned of possible attacks on crowds and concerts, as Western security authorities already had the group on their radar. However, the Kremlin dismissed this as calculated scaremongering: The “provocative” warnings from Western players were an attempt to “intimidate and destabilise Russia”. When the catastrophe at Crocus City Hall occurred on 24 March, it was therefore only a few days before Russian President Putin deviated from the original narrative of a possible pro-Ukrainian attack and blamed Islamist terrorists – albeit without explicitly naming ISIS-K.

The attack in Moscow, which claimed the lives of at least 143 people, provoked a visible reaction from the security authorities in Europe: In France, Prime Minister Attal had the highest warning level of the French security concept “Plan Vigipirate” declared on the very same day. In Germany, the authorities were already on their guard before the events in Moscow and possibly prevented an act of terrorism in Sweden a few days earlier: Two Afghans were arrested in Gera, Thuringia, who were allegedly planning an attack on the parliament in Stockholm on behalf of ISIS-K.

Risks and Measures for a safe Football Summer

As the host of the upcoming UEFA EURO 2024, which will be held in ten cities across the country, Germany could also be the target of Islamist attacks. In Berlin alone, 2.5 million guests are expected in June and July, including almost two million arriving from abroad. Any event of this magnitude requires a sophisticated security concept, as stadiums as well as countless public viewing areas and fan miles offer potential targets for all conceivable forms of crime. Violent hooligans could disrupt the peace of the European football festival, and cyber attacks (from Russia, for example) are also conceivable. The increasing threat posed by the Central Asian branch of IS, which is currently haunting the headlines, has been known to the German security authorities for some time: For example, the greatly increased protective measures in Cologne around Christmas and New Year’s Eve were aimed at protecting against attacks by ISIS-K, as Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser explained recently.

For the Minister, the security of the European Football Championships is a “top priority”. Faeser has therefore announced the temporary introduction of checks at all German borders: “This is necessary in order to provide the best possible protection for this major international event.” The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) is currently drawing up IT security guidelines, while an International Police Cooperation Centre (IPCC) is being set up in Neuss (North Rhine-Westphalia) for police security purposes. Security-related information will be pooled and forwarded here, also in co-operation with foreign police personnel from countries participating in the tournament. The challenge also offers the opportunity to further strengthen the European security culture. While the shadows of the threat can never be completely ignored, the measures taken in Germany underline a strong commitment to protecting fans: security and hospitality will go hand in hand this summer to ensure that UEFA EURO 2024 is remembered not only as a celebration of sport, but also as a symbol of unity and collective resilience that Europe desperately needs in these turbulent times.

The safety of our clients is also a top priority for A3M: Our team of Travel Security Analysts is ready and waiting, and its Global Monitoring will ensure that you can start the summer well looked after as soon as the ball starts rolling on 14 June!


Thorsten Muth