Paris Olympics: ISIS circulates 'detailed attack manuals' on using drones to hit games

Terrorism expert tells The National there is a good chance ISIS and other groups are plotting an assault on crowds

Building work at the site of the Eiffel Tower Stadium that will host beach volleyball and men's blind football during the Paris Olympics. Photo: AFP
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ISIS extremists have published "detailed" manuals for adapting drones to attack the Paris Olympics, a counter-terrorism expert has told The National

Matt Mooney believes there is a “moderately high” probability that there will be a drone attack using a home-made bomb during this summer's games.

The former US Department of Homeland Security official said the threat to Paris from drones is part of a “drumbeat of violence” being directed against sporting events, including the European football championship and cricket’s T20 World Cup.

This effort is “almost certain” to result in ISIS supporters trying or plotting to conduct “low-sophistication, lone-actor attacks" on the Olympics, said Mr Mooney, now with the Recorded Future threat intelligence company.

With the French authorities increasing security in Paris, a mass casualty attack on the scale seen in 2015, when ISIS killed 130 people at the Bataclan concert hall and other targets, is unlikely, he said.

Instead, ISIS and other extremists are producing “attack manuals” to help their followers adapt drones to carry explosive devices.

Mr Mooney gave an example of one that Recorded Future analysts came across.

“What we observed was [an ISIS] supporter, so not an official element of the … media apparatus, but someone who's active in their forums, who produced a relatively detailed analysis,” he told The National

“It focused on the commercially available drones and provided analysis on the types of drones that we can use and look to purchase."

While the manual itself "was less than 10 pages long", what "was notable [was] the level of detail the individual brought to it", said Mr Mooney.

He said there has been an increase in the circulation of material by extremists threatening sporting events taking place this year.

In particular, the branch of ISIS based in Afghanistan’s Khorasan Province, known as ISIS-K, is keen to demonstrate its ability to carry out attacks abroad.

“So you are having this sort of drumbeat of violence being directed against the sporting venues,” Mr Mooney said.

“When you have a prominent [ISIS] supporter publishing a manual on adopting drones for IED delivery, it’s certainly concerning.”

There are an estimated three million drones in France, many of them privately owned, and the police and the Interior Ministry said they are working hard to prevent any unauthorised flights over the capital.

In the lead-up to the games, an anti-drone co-ordination centre has been set up at a military base at Villacoublay, just outside Paris, where police, gendarmerie and army officers will work together to contain threats.

Officers will monitor air traffic during the Olympics to identify drones, either with radar or pictures sent by officers on the ground at the Olympic sites.

Anti-drone officers will use a UK-developed shoulder-mounted device, called SkyWall Patrol, which can fire a net high into the air, trapping any drones hovering above the French capital.

French authorities have placed technology at the heart of their security operation, including the use of artificial intelligence.

Four companies – Videtics, Orange Business, ChapsVision and Wintics – have developed AI software that analyses video streams coming from existing surveillance systems to help identify threats in public spaces.

Their algorithms are trained to detect predetermined “events” or abnormal behaviour and send alerts accordingly. Humans then decide if the alert is real and whether to act on it.

Mr Mooney told a conference on the threats that his “biggest concern” was that the opening ceremony of the games was particularly vulnerable as it will be held on the River Seine in central Paris, rather in the Olympic stadium, as is traditional.

“It's important to recognise the 2024 Paris Olympics very likely represent the most challenging physical security threat landscape for an Olympic Games since it was held in London 12 years ago,” he said.

“These games will take place in a major world capital ... with a population of 11 million people, which has been repeatedly targeted by international terrorist groups and homegrown violent extremists over the last decade.”

He said the arrest of a Chechen over a plan to attack a football stadium that will be used during this summer's Olympic Games was a worrying sign that extremists are plotting attacks.

Mr Mooney said Recorded Future has been analysing application channels and private forums used by terrorist supporters.

As a result he believes: “It's almost certain that [ISIS] and to a lesser extent Al Qaeda are actively plotting or seeking to incite attacks targeting the Paris Olympics."

Updated: June 05, 2024, 1:51 PM