Police officers patrol the Marseille port, before the arrival of the Olympic torch. GETTY IMAGES

French police detained and charged the suspect after the host country’s intelligence services foiled his ploy, which targeted Paris 2024 football matches, the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor's Office announced on Friday.

The would-be attacker was indicted last Sunday on charges of terrorist criminal association with intent to carry out crimes and remanded in custody. "He is accused of, in the name of the Islamic State's jihadist ideology, planning to commit a violent act, in particular by targeting gatherings of supporters on the sidelines of sporting events due to be held in Saint-Etienne during the Olympic Games. Initial evidence shows that the suspect was "actively preparing an attack on Geoffroy-Guichard stadium", Gérald Darmanin, the minister of the Interior, explained to the media.

According to the French Ministry, this is the fiftieth attack foiled by the intelligence services since 2017. Since 2018, several terrorism cases, including three attacks, have involved jihadists in France from the Russian republics of the North Caucasus, mainly Chechnya. The young man arrested last week was not known to the intelligence services, according to Darmanin.

"On 22 May 2024, the Directorate General of Internal Security (DGSI) arrested an 18-year-old Chechen national in Saint-Etienne (Loire) on suspicion of wanting to carry out an Islamist-inspired attack on national soil," the French ministry’s statement said, adding that this was "the first foiled attack on the Olympic Games" in Paris.

Security is a priority for France in the upcoming 2024 Games, and organisers and police alike face increasing concerns on that front due to the many conflicts currently ranging worldwide. Darmanin made it a point of congratulating the national intelligence services, which were "once again demonstrating their full commitment and effectiveness in the fight against terrorism” in the run-up to the Olympics, which will be the focus of a major security operation.

“Security is the highest priority of Paris 2024. We are working daily in close coordination with the Interior Ministry and all stakeholders and will continue to be fully mobilised,’' the Paris Olympics organising committee said in a statement, after being made aware of the arrest.

Just last week, French police questioned a man because of a threat to the Paris 2024 torch relay as it passed through the town of Bordeaux. "An individual planning a violent act during the Olympic torch relay in Bordeaux has been questioned," Darminin said on X, formerly Twitter. The whole relay is surrounded by strict security as it travels through more than 450 French towns and cities and passes by dozens of tourist attractions, including Mont Saint Michel on Friday. Around 200 members of the security forces are set to be positioned permanently around it, including an anti-terror SWAT team and anti-drone operatives. The highest point of concern, however, is the grandiose opening ceremony on the Seine, to be showcased worldwide on 26 July.

As Darmanin stated, several ploys involving nationals of Caucasian republics have been thwarted in recent years. This was the case in 2018 for two planned attacks on the gay community in Strasbourg, while Mohammed Mogushkov's brother is in prison for having planned an attack on the Elysee Palace in 2019. After the attack in Arras, Darmanin called for a "specialised approach for young men from the Caucasus in the 16-25 age bracket".

The knife attack in the Opéra district of Paris in May 2018 by Khamzat Azimov, the murder in the Paris suburbs of Samuel Paty in October 2020 by Abdoullakh Anzorov, and, on 13 October last, that of Dominique Bernard in Arras (Nord) by Mohammed Mogouchkov all had one thing in common: they were committed by radicalised young people from the North Caucasus.

With regards to the latest arrest, Darmanin was quite specific. "Having seen that the stadium was too secure, the suspect wanted to attack spectators outside, near the refreshment stands, near the cafés," he explained at the press briefing. The French minister revealed that the would-be terrorist then wanted to "die a martyr's death," as he put it, after a fight with the police," and that insisted that he was "not known to the intelligence services, not known to the police; there was nothing to suggest that he was radicalised".

His brother, a minor, was also arrested, Darmanin said, but his "responsibility has been ruled out". "There will be no further arrests in the short term in this case", added the minister, asserting that "this is not an organisation".