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France helps Britain boost security ahead of Olympics

Wednesday marks 100 days before the start of the 2012 London Olympics. Britain's new ambassador to France Sir Peter Ricketts told FRANCE 24 the two countries were working closely to avert the type of terror attack that hit Toulouse last month.


With exactly 100 days to go before the opening of the 2012 London Olympic Games, Britain is preparing to implement its biggest security operation on home soil since World War Two.

The estimated bill for security costs alone have doubled in the last year, exploding from €344 million to €670 million. More than 20,000 security staff will be on duty during the 17-day games, bolstered by 3,800 M15 special agents and 13,500 military personnel.

Two Royal Navy warships will be also be on call throughout the Games, ready to respond in the event of an attack.

Security has always been a major issue for Olympic organisers, especially since both the 1972 Munich Games and the 1996 Atlanta Games were marred by terrorism.

London is no stranger to terror attacks after the 2005 Underground bombings but existing fears the sporting event could be a target for terrorists have increased after last month's shocking events in Toulouse and Montauban.

During his 10-day killing spree in and around Toulouse, self-proclaimed jihadist Mohamed Merah demonstratedexactly the kind of terrorist threat the British authorities fear could rear its head at the Olympics.

Terror threat will be faced

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Britain’s new ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, a former national security advisor to the prime minister, stressed France and Britain would be cooperating fully over the coming months to try and prevent any attack.

Sir Peter Ricketts, Britain's new ambassador to Paris

“The threat of terrorism is something the two countries have to face together,” the ambassador said. “We had been working together closely even before Toulouse but this will only strengthen the work we do together across the whole counterterrorism area.”

French intelligence authorities came under fire in the aftermath of the Toulouse shootings for failing to identify the threat Merah posed despite knowing he had visited Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last two years.

But the ambassador, who has also served as Britain’s permanent representative to NATO, said British intelligence officials had “every confidence” in their French counterparts.

“We have real respect for the professionalism of the French security officials. It’s in the nature of things that after a terrorist incident there is always criticism of security authorities for not doing enough. The same [thing] happened in the UK,” he said.

Toulouse shootings: an intelligence failure?

“The truth is they have a very difficult job and they do it very professionally and we have every confidence in the way the French are handling this,” he added.

‘No particular threat’

The ambassador’s first official visit since he took up his position on February 17 was to the Channel port of Calais, through which thousands of extra visitors from all over Europe are expected to pour on their way to Britain before and during the Games.

The ambassador observed Calais' border security program, which will no doubt be severely tested as the event approaches. The border controls are just one aspect of a joint security operation in place to thwart any terrorists with plans to disrupt the Games.

Several international teams will also be based in the Calais region for pre-tournament training camps, adding an extra security concern for authorities.

“There is a constant exchange of information on movements of people who might be of concern. We have regular meetings and daily cooperation across the whole security sector,” Ambassador Ricketts said.

“There’s no information of a specific threat from France or anywhere in particular; there are just heightened precautions in a period when an awful lot of people will be coming to the UK for a very high-profile event,” he added.

In all around half a million spectators are set to visit the UK during the Olympic Games and they will be joined by 17,000 competitors and 20,000 journalists.

France and Britain will be hoping the security collaboration works smoothly as the two countries may have to do it all over again. President Nicolas Sarkozy hinted last week that his country could place a bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy paved the way for closer cooperation on security when they signed the landmark joint defense treaty in 2010. Ambassador Ricketts said one of his main aims during his posting in Paris is further develop military cooperation between the two nations.

“With budgets tight it makes more and more sense for the two country’s armed forces to work together when necessary,” he said.

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