Trisha Shetty

1998 World Cup terror plot

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1998 World Cup terror plot

From March to May 1998, a terror plot against the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France was uncovered by European law enforcement. More than 100 people were arrested in seven countries as a result of the plot. Organised by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and backed by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the plot is thought to have targeted the England–Tunisia match on 15 June 1998, and involved infiltrating the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille in order to attack players and spectators during the game, attack the hotel in Paris hosting the United States national team, and finally hijacking an aircraft and crashing it into the Civaux Nuclear Power Plant near Poitiers.

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Raids and arrests

The original suspect of the plot was French-Algerian Farid Melouk, who had previously been sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison in France for his connection to the 1995 Paris Métro and RER bombings. Melouk had reportedly been tracked by intelligence services following his entry into Belgium, where he was found to be in contact with Ahmed Zaoui and a GIA-linked Brussels mosque. On 3 March, after two weeks of surveillance, fifty police officers stormed a house where Melouk was staying with others involved in the plot. Ten people including Swedish and Danish nationals were arrested in the 12-hour siege, amid a series of anti-terrorism raids in Belgium. Large amounts of liquid explosives were found during the raid, as well as detonators, a Kalashnikov rifle, several handguns and thousands worth of US dollars in cash. In addition, a large number of documents, brochures and maps relating to the World Cup were retrieved. More explosives were uncovered in a follow-up raid of another house.

The March raid was part of a joint security operation between Belgium, France, Sweden, Italy and the United Kingdom. Despite initial Belgian claims denying links to any plot against the World Cup, the plot was later confirmed by the French counter-intelligence chief. Melouk was sentenced to 9 years in prison for charges including attempted murder. In early May, eight suspected militants linked to the plot were arrested in the United Kingdom.

On 26 May, nearly 100 people were detained in coordinated operations across France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. In France, 53 men including Algerian, French and Tunisian nationals suspected of links to ex-GIA commander Hassan Hattab were detained across 43 locations, including in Marseilles, Paris, Lyon and Corsica; around 25 were arrested and charged or deported. Five Algerians were arrested in Germany after raids across several cities, ten in Belgium, two in Switzerland, six in Italy, and many more detained. French Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement said on French television after the arrests that investigators had found evidence of plots to attack the World Cup. Islamist paraphernalia and $150,000 in cash were found during the raids, but no explosives or arms. Some police sources have said that a goal of the May raids was to crush GIA support networks. According to counter-terrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, the May raids were a preventive measure to protect the tournament.

Plot and aftermath

The plot involved terrorists infiltrating the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille as stadium crew, in order to attack English players and spectators during the England-Tunisia match on 15 June. Terrorists had reportedly planned to blow up the England substitute bench (targeting youngsters David Beckham and Michael Owen), shoot English players and throw grenades into the stands. Other terrorists were then to storm the United States national team's hotel in Paris and attack American players watching the game there. The attacks would be followed by another group of terrorists who would hijack an aircraft and crash it into the Civaux Nuclear Power Plant near Poitiers, causing a nuclear meltdown.

The details or even existence of the plot was kept secret from managers, players and the media, but was known to security including FA staff. In 2009, England manager in 1998 Glenn Hoddle revealed that he had only been informed of the plot "years later", while FA Director of Communications during 1998 David Davies said that he had been informed of the plot before the match by FA Head of Security Brian Hayes. The match was otherwise marred by supporter riots in Marseilles, with British vehicles being bricked while bottles were thrown across the streets, causing police to use tear gas as large numbers of supporters were injured and arrested.

Although organised by GIA operatives, the plot reportedly had the backing and support of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. According to bin Laden biographer Yossef Bodansky, the World Cup plot being foiled was one of the reasons for "dormant terrorist networks" responsible for the August 1998 United States embassy bombings being "reactivated". The attacks killed over 200 and wounded more than 4,000.

A terror plot against the UEFA Euro 2000 was discovered after Dutch intelligence intercepted calls made between GIA operatives from inside French prisons. Three men were detained in French prisons as a result of the plot, and three were subsequently arrested in the Netherlands. One of the French prisoners detained for the plot was Adel Mechat, who served 6 years after having been arrested in Germany and extradited to France as part of the 1998 World Cup raids.

The night before the first ever football match between France and Algeria in October 2001, police seized explosives and arrested four Islamist militants suspected of having targeted the game after a phone call had been intercepted with warnings to stay away from the Stade de France. Other items retrieved included bulletproof vests and explosives manuals. The match itself became marred with controversy, and was eventually stopped with 15 minutes left playing after Algerian fans stormed the field.

References

1998 World Cup terror plot Wikipedia


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