'No plan B' for Olympics opening ceremony after Paris knife attack

A 26-year-old French man of Iranian origin killed a German tourist with a hammer and a knife on Saturday near the Eiffel Tower, raising fears of a new Munich massacre

French police officers patrol the Trocadero Plaza near the Eiffel Tower after a man attacked passers-by on Saturday evening. AP
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The French government has no “plan B” for the opening ceremony of the 2024 Paris Olympic Summer Games after a tourist was killed at the weekend by a man who swore allegiance to ISIS, raising fears of a repeat of the 1972 Munich massacre.

The deadly attack comes eight months before the launch of the Olympic Games and took place on the Quai de Grenelle in the 15th administrative district, one of the spots included in the plans for the opening ceremony.

A flotilla is also expected to travel down the River Seine.

The timing of the attack, in addition to heightened tension across Europe due to the Israel-Gaza war, has raised fears of further attacks in France and particularly at high-profile events such as the Games.

“We have no plan B. We have a plan in which there are several sub-plans with a certain number of adjustment variables,” French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera told France Inter radio on Monday.

Questions about a “plan B” were prompted by comments made by former head of national police Frederic Pechenard, who said he was “very worried” about Olympic security after Saturday's attack.

Questioned by police after his arrest, the 26-year-old assailant of Iranian origin, Armand Rajabpour-Miyandoab, said he was “tired of seeing Muslims dying”, notably in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, and claimed that France was an accomplice of Israel, according to newspaper Le Monde.

“Everybody is thinking about the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich during which there was a hostage crisis with an Israeli delegation,” said Jerome Poirot, an intelligence specialist and a commentator on national television network BFMTV.

Eleven Israeli coaches and athletes, and one German police officer, were killed during the 1972 attack led by a Palestinian militant organisation.

“What is obvious is that there will be terrorist plans to target the Olympic Games,” said Mr Poirot. “The main question is: Will intelligence services be able to detect and prevent them all?”

Mr Rajabpour-Miyandoab, a French citizen who converted to Islam in 2015, was known for his extremist views for which he had been sentenced to four years in prison.

He had been under a medical monitoring programme for mental health issues after his release in 2020 but had stopped his treatment last year.

His mother had expressed worry about her son's mental health two months ago but police had no reason to re-arrest him, according to the Interior Ministry.

He pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video recorded before Saturday's attack, anti-terrorism Prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said on Sunday.

During the attack, Mr Rajabpour-Miyandoab screamed “Allahu akbar”, Arabic for “God is great”, several times, Mr Ricard said.

Authorities said his first victim, a 23-year-old German-Philippino nurse on holiday with his girlfriend and a friend, died after being hit twice with a hammer and stabbed four times with a knife.

Mr Rajabpour-Miyandoab is also said to have attacked two other people, including a British tourist. They both sustained light wounds.

In an attempt to appease fears caused by the attacks, French government officials highlighted the in-depth security plans for the Olympic Games announced last week by the Paris police.

“Terrorist threats are nothing new,” said Ms Oudea-Castera. “We are doing our best to reduce them to a minimum.”

The site of Saturday's attack will be one of the most tightly monitored sites during the Games where identity checks will be enforced, she said.

“We have a whole series of means to be deployed, including mine clearers and dog-handling teams.”

Asked if the government was planning a change to its plan to hold the ceremony on the River Seine, with up to 600,000 spectators expected along its banks amid the security threats, Ms Oudea-Castera said: “This not something we're working with.”

“We have the capacity to secure the event”, she said, adding that certain details, including the number of additional cultural events surrounding the main spectacle and the security perimeter, would be adjusted closer to the Games.

Paris has a “painful experience” with terrorist attacks and has “acquired great experience regarding the state of permanent vigilance that we must have”, said deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire, speaking to France Info radio.

In November 2015, 130 people were killed in terrorist attacks in the city.

At the time, there were fears that a similar attack would occur six months later at Uefa's 2016 Euro football tournament.

A few days before the tournament began, two policemen were killed by a man who swore to make a “cemetery out of the Euro”.

The Euros went ahead with no major incident and were widely viewed as a success in terms of security.

Mr Gregoire also pointed to the recent rugby world cup during which there were no incidents.

“It is not at all the Olympic Games, and moments of collective celebration, that must be called into question,” he said.

“The question is rather about identifying and treating these isolated cases [such as Mr Rajabpour-Miyandoab], which constitute threats.”

Updated: December 04, 2023, 1:47 PM