Russia fears Al-Qaeda and ISIS fanatics will target the 2018 World Cup
The Russian secret service is preparing for potential terror attack at next year's football World Cup, fearing that both ISIS and Al-Qaeda will be sending 'sabotage groups, an ex-KGB agent reveals.
The Federal Security Service (FSB) said it had already thwarted attacks planned on this summer's Confederations Cup, seen as dry-run for next summer.
Among the anti-terror measures personally approved by President Vladimir Putin are restrictions in sales of arms, explosives, poisons in the regions where the World Cup is played, ban on drones near stadiums and registering the identities of all ticket-holders in advance.
Hooliganism is also seen as a major potential problem, as the intelligence agency reveals an unprecedented security clampdown to ensure a tournament without trouble.
The ex-KGB agent exclusively told MailOnline that after in-depth analysis they have learned lessons from the notorious Battle of Marseilles at Euro 2016 when English and Russian supporters clashed in appalling alcohol-fuelled hooligan carnage.
English fans are told by the FSB that they are 'welcome' to Russia, but a no-nonsense warning makes clear that hooliganism will not be tolerated, with a range of strict new punishments including expulsion and strengthened custodial sentences of up to seven years to be served in the country's grim penal colonies.
Putin has appointed an FSB deputy director General Sergey Smirnov, 67, one of his most trusted security lieutenants, in charge of a multi agency HQ for providing security for the competition, we can reveal.
'The terror threat is considered to be the main one,' disclosed an FSB source in an exclusive briefing.
Major sporting competitions like the World Cup are now 'primary targets of all international terrorist and extremist organisations, groups of rebels and their accomplices.’
After terrorist strikes recently in Britain, France, Germany, the US and Spain, as well as Russia, 'the main efforts' of Putin's secret services and law enforcement agencies 'are aimed at disclosing and preventing of possible acts of terror,' he said.
'At the same time, we are paying close attention to the matters of countering actions against football hooligans, of providing public order and the matter of cyber security.'
In a warning to hooligans, he said: 'We do not differentiate radical fans on the basis of their national identity, whoever they are, English or from any other country.
'All fans are expected in Russia with a mood of kindliness and hospitality.
'Russian society hopes for mutual warm feelings from the international fans.
'Football hooligans who plan to come to the World Cup 2018 with unlawful intentions should remember that in case they perform such actions, make attempts to organise riots and the like, they will experience adequate resistance measures to the limits of Russian law.’
Making clear the terrorist threat is real, the FSB said starting with the build-up to the summer 2017 Confederations Cup 'the leaders of international terrorist organisations - Al-Qaeda and ISIS in particular - have made no secret their intention to spread their terror activities across Russian territory,' he said.
'Information was coming from Russian law enforcement and our foreign colleagues about plans to dispatch terror sabotage groups into our country, mainly consisting from rebels trained in Syria and Iraq.
'We have registered active work of recruiters and promoters of terror groups on the Internet aimed at both Russian users and those who originated from Central Asian countries.’
Until now counter-measures 'allowed us to prevent implementation of such threats' but sophisticated operations are underway to prevent problems at the World Cup, said the source.
During the Confederations Cup this summer, the FSB foiled an attack on a high speed train between Moscow and St Petersburg, say reports.
An alleged jihadist cell aimed to crash two Sapsan express trains with a combined speed of 186 mph, close to St Petersburg on 27 July.
Seven suspects were detained, some 'trained in sabotage techniques,' according to reports.
Despite the concerns, 'on the eve of the FIFA World Cup we evaluate the situation in the regions involved (in the contest) as stable and controlled,' said the FSB source.
'There are no (specific) threats to participants and guests of the cup.
'Nevertheless, we are organising the necessary operational activities aimed at neutralising potential threats.’
No further details were given about these operations.
On hooliganism, the source called for close cooperation with security services in the EU amid concerns in rising violence among fan groups in Europe at a time when Russia has cracked down massively on its own hooligan problem.
'In 2017 the Russian Federation was among the first to ratify the EU Convention on resisting hooliganism among fans,' he said.
'We hope that this will help us increase the level of cooperation with the foreign partners, for example, to organise the exchange of data about radical fans, because we are particularly concerned about the growing violence of the fans from EU countries.’
After the ugly Marseilles scenes, and years of incidents involving 'ultras' - organised violent football hooligans - in Russia, the Moscow authorities now believe they have turned a corner ahead of the World Cup both in neutralising their own hard core hooligan groups and arming police with 'extra tools' - tougher punishments - to counter football violence.
'The improvement of this situation and minimisation of hooliganism and other illegal actions of representatives of so-called informal fan communities comes as a result of joint work of all law enforcement agencies,' said the Lubyanka source.
'Russia has toughened administrative measures against those spectators at official sports events who violate the appropriate rules of behaviour.’
He admitted: 'We have completed serious amount of work on reshaping the fan communities and on transferring their activities into a legal terrain.
'After the 'Marseille events' at the Euro-2016, the Russian Football Union (equivalent of the FA) refused to cooperate with the All-Russia Fans Union, run by Alexander Shprygin and it was decided to exclude this organisation.’
Shprygin - once pictured with Putin, and also making a Nazi salute beside a topless woman - and his organisation was seen as a catalyst of the French chaos, and he is now personally banned by the FSB from attending matches.
Penalties for violence and endangering safety at grounds have been boosted for both Russian and foreign fans, said the FSB.
Hundreds of Russian fans have been barred from games covering the 2018 tournament.
Those hit by recent court bans are named and shamed on a list published by the Interior Ministry.
The Fan ID system was pioneered at the Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi, and has been honed to ensure the Russian authorities can identify everyone at matches - and to exclude known troublemakers.
Once registered, fans with tickets will be able to enter Russia without visas, and given free train travel between World Cup cities for matches they are entitled to attend.
The FSB source said: 'Our main goal is to work out and implement the measures on providing security during the world soccer cup in 2018, on creating the safe environment for its participants and numerous guests.
The FSB also revealed a detailed planning conclave involving the secret services of countries attending the World Cup was held in Krasnodar in October - but Moscow says it did not include British representatives from MI6 or MI5 among intelligence personnel from 24 countries.
The source declined to answer if the FSB believed strains in relations between Russia and the West were hampering preparations for a secure World Cup.
Britain suspended cooperation with Russian security services after the London killing of dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 from acute radiation after polonium-210 was poured in his tea.
The Krasnodar session was addressed by FSB director Alexander Bortnikov.
'Participants of the meeting supported Russia's suggestion to increase the intensity of information exchange about threats to the 2018 soccer cup,' said the source.