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Istanbul bombs raise Olympic security fears
Paul Taylor | November 19, 2003 21:22 IST
Suicide bombs in neighbouring Turkey and a continuing impasse in Middle East peace efforts have heightened Greek security worries for next year's Olympic Games, Defence Minister Yannos Papandoniou said on Wednesday.
"We are worried about the security situation as it evolves both in Iraq and elsewhere. We see that the threat of global terrorism is developing," he told Reuters in an interview.
Greece is planning a huge security operation, with some 10,000 troops on duty to back up police and other security services for the global sports event starting next August 13.
Papandoniou announced last week the creation of a 200-member special unit to deal with potential threats involving weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, biological and chemical.
That was before Saturday's twin car bombings at synagogues in Istanbul, which killed 25 people and wounded hundreds.
While the attack highlighted security fears for the Olympics, the minister said it had not really affected security planning since Greece was already preparing for all eventualities.
He said there was no evidence the Islamic militant network Al Qaeda had cells in Greece, but acknowledged that Palestinian radical groups had operated in the country in the past.
Athens' good relations with Arab governments close to those radicals made an attack on Greek soil more unlikely, he said.
The Greek security operation will be three times the size of Australia's effort for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, reflecting sharply higher risks perceptions since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"MIDDLE EAST IN FLAMES"
"The main threat, as I see it, is the development of the terrorist threat in conjunction with what is happening in the Middle East. So long as the Middle East remains in flames, this will continue to fuel and sustain terrorist threats," he said.
Asked whether that could hit the Athens Olympics, the minister said: "I'm talking about 2004, yes. I'm worried about the continuation of the impasse and the continuation and escalation of terrorist attacks in the Middle East."
Papandoniou said Greece had built an extensive network of cooperation with other European and foreign security services, including with the United States, and had located equipment, know-how and people to call in an emergency.
Despite a history of tense relations, he said he trusted that Turkey too would be responsive to Greece's request for security information and cooperation for the Olympics.
"The security concern is the paramount concern of this government because of the obligation on the authorities in charge to provide the highest degree of security to those who will be in Athens in 2004," he said.