Minister tells soccer fans to be 'vigilant' after terror plot foiled
Excited Irish fans heading to France for Euro 2016 have been urged to stay on high alert following the revelation of a fresh terror plot against the country.
Ukraine's state security service yesterday revealed that a French citizen, detained late last month on the border with Poland, had been planning attacks to coincide with the tournament.
The man was identified by French media as Gregoire Moutaux (25).
Intelligence chief Vasyl Hrytsak said Moutaux had planned 15 attacks and was driven by ultra-nationalist views.
Five million football fans, including 100,000 Irish people, are expected to descend on France over the coming weeks for the Euros, which begin in Paris this Friday.
The Ukrainian border guard service reported that Moutaux had been arrested with an arsenal of weapons and explosives - including rocket launchers and Kalashnikov assault rifles - in his vehicle.
Hrytsak said Moutaux had contacted armed groups in Ukraine with the aim of buying weapons and explosives. His intended targets included Jewish and Muslim places of worship and buildings involved with the soccer tournament, Hrytsak said.
"The SBU was able to prevent a series of 15 acts of terror (planned) for the eve and during the Euro soccer championship," he said.
A French foreign ministry spokesman confirmed that a Frenchman has been arrested in Ukraine and said the ministry was in contact with Ukrainian authorities.
Security officials in Europe are on high alert after Islamist militants killed 130 people in Paris last November and suicide bombers killed 32 people at Belgium's main international airport and on the Brussels metro in March.
The United States has also warned its citizens of possible further attacks in Europe.
However, Minister for Sport Patrick O'Donovan told the Herald that the latest terror threat wouldn't deter him from travelling to Euro 2016. He said he wanted the "maximum number" of Irish fans to be there.
Mr O'Donovan is to attend Ireland's opening game against Sweden next Monday and said he is "absolutely not" deterred from going after the arrest of a terror suspect in Ukraine.
"They (fans) have been excellent ambassadors for Ireland and it is important ... that we would be able to have the maximum number of people over there supporting the Irish team," he said.
"We're encouraging people to enjoy themselves but be vigilant and to work with the French security forces and to cooperate with the authorities while they're in France," Mr O'Donovan added.
"These tournaments and events are an integral part of what it is to be European. I think every effort needs to be made by Europe across borders to make sure that we protect our citizens, but also that we allow our citizens to enjoy the sporting activities that they've become used to."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs reiterated Minister Charles Flanagan's advice for fans. He previously pointed out that the tournament is taking place "against a backdrop of heightened security concerns in France".
"My advice to Irish citizens intending to travel to France is that they should exercise a high degree of caution," he said and advised people to consult the latest advice on the Department of Foreign Affairs' website.
The Irish Embassy in Paris is to get extra staff to provide assistance for Euro 2016. There will be consular staff in France to provide advice and emergency consular assistance to Irish citizens who get into difficulty.
Fianna Fail foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O'Brien said he met Minister Flanagan and officials from his department and described them as being "well organised".