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.
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