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Priestman says foiled plan to attack Olympic matches 'a concern'

Bev Priestman Bev Priestman - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Canadian women's national team coach Bev Priestman says news of a foiled plan to attack soccer matches at the Paris Olympics is "a concern."

French authorities on Friday handed preliminary terrorism charges to an 18-year-old accused of a plot targeting spectators attending soccer games at this summer's Olympics. The interior minister said it was the first such thwarted plot targeting the Games, which start in eight weeks as France is on its highest threat alert level.

"That's a concern to hear," Priestman said Friday at Saputo Stadium, where the Canadian women will play Mexico in a pre-Olympic friendly Saturday. "I guess we have to trust that the processes and systems that are in place are there to protect every athlete at the Games."

According to the initial investigation, the man was preparing an attack targeting the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium in Saint-Etienne that will host several matches, including two that involve the Canadian team.

Canada, which won Olympic gold in Tokyo in 2021, opens the tournament at the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium on July 25 before taking on host France at the same venue on July 28.

"That's a concern to hear, but I think a little bit like in Tokyo, the Olympic Committee, I would imagine that they're going to step in and I think our faith and trust will be in making it a secure and safe environment for our players," Priestman said.

The man is accused of planning a ‘’violent action’’ on behalf of the Islamic State group’s jihadist ideology, the national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office said in a statement Friday. The man, who was not identified, is behind held in custody pending further investigation.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a statement that members of the General Directorate of Internal Security arrested an 18-year-old man from Chechnya on May 22 on suspicion of being behind a plan to attack soccer events in Saint-Etienne.

The planned attack was to target spectators and police forces, the statement said. The suspect wanted to attack the Olympic events “to die and become a martyr,” the statement also said.

In a statement, David Shoemaker, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said that the COC maintains regular contact with Paris 2024’s security team, the Canadian government, and international partners to ensure Team Canada's health and safety at the Games.

"We know the health and security of all participants and spectators is of utmost priority for Paris 2024 and the French Government and its agencies and appreciate their ongoing and extensive efforts," he said.

France is on its highest security alert ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics, which are expected to draw millions of visitors, and run July 26-Aug. 11. Soccer matches will take place in cities across France before the final in Paris’ Stade de France.

— With files from The Associated Press in Paris.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.