Host of looming global sports events, France echoes FBI fears of drone strike threats

France drone threat

French officials have echoed concerns expressed last week by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) about the emerging threat of drones in attacks by terrorists or other malevolent forces against major events like the US Super Bowl, World Series, or the World Cup of soccer whose current edition opened Sunday in Qatar.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin voiced his concerns about the potential threat of drones loaded with explosives being used in strikes against large events attracting tens or hundreds of thousands of spectators as he attended the opening ceremony of the Qatar-hosted World Cup. 

With France preparing to stage next year’s World Cup of Rugby, and the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, Darmanin called deployment of UAVs in violent strikes against popular public gatherings the biggest worry security authorities have today.

“Drones are the main terrorist threat of today and tomorrow,” Darmanin said, evoking the threat of a UAV “loaded with explosives that falls on a crowd, on an exposed team, on an opening ceremony like at the Olympic Games for example.”

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His comments in an interview with Agence France-Press came less than a week after FBI director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, during which he said his agents were investigating cases in the US in which pilots were planning to use UAVs to carry homemade improvised explosive devices (IED). 

“As the threat continues to grow, we are investigating, even as we speak, several instances within the US of attempts to weaponize drones with homemade IEDs,” Wray testified as he urged Congress to extend counter-UAV laws set to expire in December. “These are extraordinarily sophisticated tools… in terms of their visibility, the speed with which they can move, the distance with which they can move, and also the loads that they can carry.

“It’s important for Americans to understand if that authority is not reauthorized next month, that public gatherings like the Super Bowl in Arizona, like New Year’s Eve in Times Square, like Formula One in Las Vegas, and I could go on, none of those things will have protection from this threat,” Wray urged.

On Sunday, Darmanin went even further by calling the potential use of drones by terrorists a the leading security threat officials face today. Mindful of that and other menaces, Darmanin noted France had sent 225 specialized forces to Qatar to oversee the security of estimated 20,000 French fans expected to attend World Cup matches. 

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Those units, he said, would also use “things that may obviously inspire us” that they learn during their Qatar deployment for preparing preventive measures for the World Cup of Rugby and Paris Summer Olympics.

“It (represents) intelligence and experience to have for tomorrow,” Darmanin said. “There are things to be learned from previous competitions, (but) this is also the last big competitions before our own we’ll be organizing in France.”

Several companies specialized in counter-drone technology like Fortem have been hired by Qatari authorities to identify and neutralize UAVs invading banned airspaces around World Cup stadium – whether accidentally, intentionally, or for attack purposes.

The rising concern over drone threats among French and other security officials notwithstanding, it is worthwhile noting that apart from their effective use in Ukraine’s chaotic war setting, deployment with limited impact by extremist militia groups in the Middle East, and operation dropping explosives on rivals by Mexican cartels, the incidence of UAVs being repurposed for violent objectives elsewhere in the world has thus far been rare, when not inexistent.

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