ISIS supporters have intensified long-running online threats this week against the FIFA World Cup, which begins in Russia on June 14 and runs for a month, and against the Union of European Football Associations’ upcoming final in Kiev.
The 11 host cities for World Cup matches span the far western part of the country, from Ekaterinburg in the east to Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast, from St. Petersburg to the north down to Olympic city Sochi at the Black Sea.
Russian hackers recently have been identified as impersonating ISIS to threaten American military wives. Though independent ISIS-backing media groups are more difficult to verify than official ISIS media channels, Russia and formerly Soviet Central Asian countries have contributed an estimated 8,500 fighters to ISIS’ ranks.
The World Cup is an attractive target for terrorist groups because of the international representation and crowd sizes at the events. ISIS has also long had a beef with the sport so popular in the Muslim world, banning jerseys of European soccer teams in occupied territories and reportedly banning referees for following FIFA rules instead of Sharia soccer laws. One of the 2015 Paris terrorists detonated his bomb outside the Stade de France during a Germany-France exhibition match. And the municipal soccer stadium in Raqqa was turned into an execution center by ISIS; since the Syrian Democratic Forces drove ISIS out of town, games have returned to the pitch.
In a new instructional graphic issued in English and Russian, would-be jihadists are shown how to target “the infidels in or out of stadiums.”
“Attack them with a truck or car,” the poster, distributed online, says, showing a semi-truck and a black light SUV.
“Blow them up or slaughter them or shoot them,” the advice continues, showing a rifle, a knife, and an explosive device with dynamite. Then a graphic shows “deadly points in the human body”: clavicle, solar plexus and ribs.
One poster threatened “we will be there” to both the World Cup and the Union of European Football Associations Champions League, a tournament currently underway with the final scheduled for May 26 in Kiev. Another new poster shows a jihadist overlooking a stadium and promises “soon” to the “Kiev Champions League.”
Al-Faqir Media, one of the more active pro-ISIS media groups that recently threatened attacks on commercial air travel, depicted a jihadist standing among the spectators at a soccer match with a grenade in hand. “Victory will be ours,” the poster said.
Another Al-Faqir poster showed a Molotov-cocktail-wielding man clad in a black hoodie, vowing in English and Russian “we will turn your night into fires.”
Pro-ISIS propaganda has also threatened specific players, including a recent depiction of Cristiano Ronaldo as a prisoner in an ablaze Luzhniki Stadium, one of the World Cup sites.
Last fall, the ISIS-supporting Wafa’ Media Foundation released several gory posters threatening the World Cup. The images showed FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi dead, French national team manager Didier Deschamps as an orange-jumpsuit-clad prisoner of ISIS being held at gunpoint, and Brazilian national team star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior about to be executed. “You will not enjoy security until we live it in Muslim countries,” one poster vowed.
The World Cup threats subsided over the holidays as ISIS media groups turned their focus toward threatening the Vatican and Christmas/New Year’s celebrations.