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THREAT ASSESSMENT: EUROVISION 2024, HIGH TERROR THREAT AND PLANNED PROTESTS POSE A LARGE SECURITY CHALLENGE; LAW ENFORCEMENT AND VISITORS BE ALERT OF SUSPICIOUS BEHAVIOR

Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Zara Price, William Adams

Elena Alice Rossetti, Editor; Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor

April 30, 2024


Posters in Copenhagen Calling for Protests Against Israel’s Participation in the Eurovision Song Contest 2024[1]


The Eurovision Song Contest will occur in Malmo, Sweden, from May 4 to May 12, 2024, and the organizers expect over 100,000 visitors. Sweden recently raised its terror threat level to level four out of five after direct threats from Islamist terrorist organizations. Large-scale demonstrations will take place this week, in protest of Israel’s participation in the contest after the war in Gaza started. Police from Denmark and Norway will assist the Swedish police, and extensive security measures have been put in place throughout the city in preparation for the event.


The event will almost certainly entail large challenges for law enforcement agencies, from several different directions. Lone actors will likely exploit the police’s diverted attention, very likely motivated by the Quran burnings in Sweden in the 2023 summer and Israel’s war in Gaza. Areas outside the event location, such as public transportation and shopping areas, as well as individuals or groups carrying symbols, flags, or clothing related to Israel or Judaism, are very likely targets of a possible attack. Far-right groups and right-wing political parties will very likely exploit potential violence between police and pro-Palestinian protesters in the aftermath of the Eurovision Song Contest, which will use these events to legitimize anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence. The cooperation between different national and international agencies during the event will almost certainly set important precedents for future European security cooperation, specifically in relation to future large-scale events such as the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.


Recent Events

On May 13, 2023, the Swedish artist Loreen won the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool, England, resulting in the contest taking place in Sweden in 2024.[2] On July 7, the Swedish Public Service Television Company (SVT), which is responsible for organizing the show, chose Malmo as the host city of the competition, which will take place between May 7 and May 11, 2024. SVT and Malmo City are in charge of the event in cooperation with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the Swedish police.[3] 


In June and July 2023, Swedish police granted permits for several individuals to burn the Quran outside of mosques and embassies, leading to strong reactions in Muslim countries worldwide, including condemnation from international bodies[4] and violent protests outside of the Swedish embassy in Iraq.[5] The Quran burnings led to increased threats from Islamist terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab against Sweden, who urged their followers to attack targets in Sweden and Swedish interests abroad.[6] The Swedish Security Service (SAPO) on August 17, 2023, raised the national terror threat level from Elevated (3) to High (4) on a five-level scale, citing the increasing threats from terrorist organizations during the previous months as the main reason. Charlotte von Essen, the Director General of the Swedish Security Service (SAPO) stated that Sweden has gone from being a “legitimate” target to a “prioritized” target for terrorist attacks.[7] On October 16, a gunman killed two Swedish nationals and injured another one in Brussels, Belgium. The victims were heading to a soccer match between Sweden and Belgium wearing Swedish match shirts, and the attacker posted a video after the attack stating he had killed the Swedes because of their nationality in the name of ISIS.[8] Intelligence agencies in Europe foiled several planned attacks in Sweden in recent months, including the March 2023 German law enforcement’s arrest  of two individuals connected to the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) who were planning to attack the Swedish parliament.[9] There have been large-scale disinformation campaigns against Sweden during 2023, portraying Sweden as Islamophobic and dangerous for Muslims, further increasing the threat from Islamist terrorist organizations.[10]


Three months after the decision to host the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 in Malmo, Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, 2023, resulting in a large-scale conflict between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the conflict in Gaza has killed over 34,000 Palestinians since October 7,[11] which led to large pro-Palestinian protests worldwide, including in Malmo.[12] The conflict in Gaza led to voiced criticism of Israel’s participation in the European Song Contest, including petitions from over 2000 artists in Sweden[13] and Finland[14] who demanded Israel's exclusion from the competition. Several Swedish artists scheduled to perform during the Eurovision week dropped out in protest of Israel’s participation,[15] and the Swedish Palestine Solidarity Association expects over 20,000 visitors to come to Malmo to protest during the same week.[16] An individual applied for a permit to burn the Quran at Gustav Adolf’s Square in central Malmo on May 3, the day before the Eurovision week officially starts. The police have not yet taken a decision, but the right to protest is a very strong fundamental right in Sweden, and the police have limited capabilities to deny such requests.[17] Previous demonstrations against Quran burnings in Malmo led to large riots and injuries among both protesters and police, both in April 2022[18] and in September 2023.[19]


The current security plan encompasses increased manpower thanks to police reinforcements from Norway and Denmark[20] and stringent security measures at all event venues. Enhanced surveillance and strict identity checks on routes between Copenhagen and Malmo are part of this strategy to ensure thorough monitoring of cross-border movement. The police will implement a ban on bags in both Folkets Park and Malmo Live, with exceptions for essential items such as medical supplies, which will be subject to security checks.[21]. There will be controlled entrances at all major access points where visitors will undergo security screenings.[22] The presence of police equipped with reinforcement weapons, such as the Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, aims to provide a visible deterrent to any potential disturbances.[23] To counteract the emerging threat of unauthorized drone activity, local authorities will establish a no-fly-zone over the event areas. The Swedish Armed Forces will support this effort, deploying technology to monitor and block unauthorized drone flights.[24]


Map of the Eurovision Song Contest Area in Malmo, Sweden[25]


Assessments

Police will very likely allocate toward the concert venue, almost certainly increasing the vulnerability of the surrounding area and the rest of the city to terrorist attacks. Large crowds will likely create blind spots near and inside the concert venue, likely increasing the risk of prohibited items entering the venue. Large crowds and potentially high numbers of victims will almost certainly overwhelm emergency services and limit medical assistance on site. Potential attackers will likely target areas with less strict security measures, such as the city center, public transportation within Malmo, and the trains between Copenhagen and Malmo. If violence between police and protesters occurs, it is likely that some protestors will vandalize and destroy property, especially police and emergency vehicles. There is a roughly even chance that potential attackers will use vandalism and property destruction as a tactic to limit or slow police response. Israeli and Jewish establishments and buildings, such as the Malmo Synagogue, are very likely targets of a potential attack.


It is very likely that the presence of pro-Palestinian demonstrations during Eurovision week, specifically scheduled from May 9 to May 11, will significantly heighten security concerns. Local law enforcement expect that the protests, motivated by Israel's participation in Eurovision amid the ongoing Gaza conflict, will attract large crowds. This almost certainly increases the complexity of security operations. The large-scale nature of these demonstrations, coupled with the high public profile of the event and the existing heightened security climate in Sweden, very likely require robust crowd control and emergency response strategies. This scenario presents a significant operational challenge, and local law enforcement will likely be prepared with riot uniforms if violence breaks out. Using riot uniforms from the start will likely risk increasing tension from the start of the protest as the protesters can interpret this as distrust from the police. Terrorists will likely take advantage of Increased tensions and violence between protesters and police, as those events will take up police resources. The Police and SÄPO will almost certainly monitor previously known individuals and online platforms connected to violent organizations, making it more likely for lone actors not affiliated with a specific group to perform attacks. Because of the enhanced security throughout the city, violent actors will very likely use weapons such as knives and other bladed weapons rather than guns or vehicle attacks, and target particularly Israeli citizens wearing clothing or displaying Israel-related symbols.


There is a very likely chance that any violent incidents associated with pro-Palestinian demonstrations during the Eurovision 2024 in Malmo will amplify Islamophobic sentiments within right-wing extremist groups in Sweden and potentially across Europe. Right-wing extremist groups such as the Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) might seize on such events to reinforce anti-Muslim narratives, claiming these incidents confirm their extremist views and justify their actions. The current right-wing extremist landscape in Sweden, which is increasingly characterized by smaller, more radical sub-groups and fight clubs that blend ultra-masculinity, violence, racism, and right-wing extremism[26], also poses a likely threat as a response to potential threats and violent events during Eurovision. This will likely lead to an increase in hate crimes targeting Muslim communities, as these groups often use publicized events involving Muslims as catalysts to bolster their cause.


Future Implications

The immediate challenge for Malmo's law enforcement and emergency services will be the intensive management of both expected and unforeseen security scenarios. This includes physical security measures such as checkpoints and patrolling, as well as extensive surveillance and rapid response strategies to handle potential threats. The city will likely need to implement advanced communication and coordination systems to manage the influx of international visitors, both competitors and audience of the event. As Copenhagen Airport is the closest airport to Malmo and many of the visitors will almost certainly live in Copenhagen, Danish law enforcement will very likely act according to the same protocols and security procedures as the Swedish police. This complex operational environment demands high readiness to address any situation from protests turning violent to potential terrorist actions, which will likely strain local resources and require seamless inter-agency collaboration.


The logistics of safely accommodating thousands of visitors, alongside managing potential disruptions from demonstrations and increased security checks, will likely challenge the city's transport systems and public services. Effective crowd management is crucial for safe venue access, likely requiring careful planning of traffic and public transit to handle increased footfall without major disruptions. The handling of these security challenges and the public's response to such measures will be critical in maintaining order and could set a precedent for future large-scale events in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe, particularly for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris 2024. Beyond the immediate event, the strategies and outcomes of Eurovision 2024 could influence European security policies, especially those relating to the handling of political expressions and the balance between security and civil liberties in public spaces.


The international collaboration between Denmark, Sweden, and Norway observed during Eurovision 2024 in Malmo is likely to set important precedents for future European security cooperation. This partnership, marked by shared security responsibilities and joint operational efforts, demonstrates a model of cross-border collaboration that is crucial for managing cross-border threats and organizing large public events under significant threat levels. By pooling resources, exchanging intelligence, and synchronizing response strategies, these countries enhance their collective security capabilities, which could likely serve as a blueprint for similar collaborations within the European Union. The successful management of security at Eurovision will likely strengthen mutual trust and operational ties internationally, likely encouraging wider European initiatives that improve security and boost resilience against potential threats.


The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) EUCOM, Extremism, and WATCH/GSOC Teams will continue to track developments concerning potential security threats facing the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo between May 4 to May 12. Teams will monitor daily events and analyze their potential impacts internally and externally. CTG will continue to follow the efforts by Swedish law enforcement to avoid violent episodes during protests and prevent violent attacks. CTG will monitor the progress of cooperation between both national and international law enforcement agencies and make future assessments of the impact on upcoming large-scale events in Europe. CTG teams will provide recommendations to involved parties based on the most recent developments.

 

[1] Eurovision Protest Posters Copenhagen by Zara Price

[2] Eurovision: Sweden's Loreen wins again, but UK's Mae Muller is second from last, BBC, May 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-65585413 

[3] Malmö värdstad för Eurovision Song Contest 2024, Malmö Stad, July 2023, https://malmo.se/Aktuellt/Artiklar-Malmo-stad/2023-07-07-Malmo-vardstad-for-Eurovision-Song-Contest-2024.html (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[4] THREATS AGAINST SWEDEN, SWEDISH INTERESTS, AND MINORITY GROUPS AFTER QURAN BURNINGS, by Gabriel Helupka, Jennifer Radlinsky, Martina Sclaverano, Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, and Pike Wipperfurth

[6] Ibid

[8] BEHAVIORAL THREAT ASSESSMENT OF BRUSSELS SHOOTER ABDESALEM LASSAOUED, RESURGING ISIS THREAT IN EU, by Sebastien Chapel, Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Flavie Curinier, Magdalena Breyer, Ludovica Leccese

[9] Germany arrests 2 Afghans over Swedish parliament attack plot, Politico, March 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-arrests-two-afghan-people-allegedly-planning-attack-sweden-parliament/ 

[10] THREATS AGAINST SWEDEN, SWEDISH INTERESTS, AND MINORITY GROUPS AFTER QURAN BURNINGS, by Gabriel Helupka, Jennifer Radlinsky, Martina Sclaverano, Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, and Pike Wipperfurth

[11] Israel widens strikes, orders more evacuations in north of Gaza, Voice of America, April 2024, https://www.voanews.com/a/britain-germany-call-on-hamas-to-release-hostages/7581287.html 

[12] Tusentals i demonstration för Gaza i Malmö, SVT, February 2024, https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/skane/tusentals-i-demonstration-for-gaza-i-malmo (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[13] 1 005 svenska artister: Uteslut Israel från Eurovision, SVT, January 2024, https://www.svt.se/kultur/1-005-svenska-artister-uteslut-israel-fran-eurovision (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[14] 1 300 finländska musiker: Stoppa Israel i ESC, SVT, January 2024, https://www.svt.se/kultur/1-300-finlandska-musiker-stoppa-israel-i-esc (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[15] Fler artister hoppar av Eurovisionfesten – Malmö stad skippar stor scen, Dagens Nyheter, April 2024, https://www.dn.se/kultur/fler-artister-hoppar-av-eurovisionfesten-malmo-stad-skippar-stor-scen/ (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[16] Stora protester mot Israels deltagande i Eurovision väntas i Malmö, SVT, April 2024, https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/skane/stora-protester-mot-israels-deltagande-i-eurovision-vantas-i-malmo (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[17] Ansökan har inkommit om att bränna en koran inför Eurovision i Malmö, SVT, April 2024, https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/skane/ansoker-om-att-branna-koran-infor-eurovision (Translated by Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg)

[18] Riots over Koran burning test Swedish tolerance, France24, April 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220420-riots-over-koran-burning-test-swedish-tolerance  

[20]Armed police from other countries will guard Malmö during Eurovision, SVT, April 2024, https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/skane/bevapnade-poliser-fran-andra-lander-ska-bevaka-malmo-under-eurovision (Translated by Google)

[21] Safety during Eurovision, Malmö Stad, April 2024,

[22] Safety during Eurovision, Malmö Stad, April 2024,

[23] Alarm arcs and police officers with reinforcement weapons - that's how safety must be guaranteed during Eurovision, Dagens Nyheter, April 2024, https://www.dn.se/kultur/larmbagar-och-poliser-med-forstarkningsvapen-sa-ska-sakerheten-garanteras-under-eurovision

[24] The police are preparing for drone threats against Eurovision, SVT, April 2024, https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/polisen-forbereder-for-dronarhot-mot-eurovision (Translated by Google)

[25] “map_ESC_overview_PM_02” by City of Malmö licensed under Medieanvändning

[26]This is what the threat from the far-right looks like - fragmented movement and fight clubs, SVT , April 2024,   https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/sa-ser-hotet-fran-hogerextrema-ut-splittrad-rorelse-och-slagsmalsklubbar (Translated by Google)

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