Greek security authorities are on full standby since yesterday’s violent terrorist strikes in Istanbul. In Athens, Thessaloniki and other urban centers, increased security measures have been taken at embassies and consulates, synagogues, offices and multinational company offices, while checks at airports, harbors and borders have also intensified.
Special equipment for the detection of explosive and chemical substances will be installed in the Athens metro, in the framework of the security measures that have been enforced since yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Istanbul.
Prime Minister Costas Simitis, speaking at the Pasok Central Committee meeting on the occasion of the latest bloodbath in Istanbul, he underlined that the Greek government has assumed all the necessary measures in order for the 2004 Olympic Games to be carried out in complete security. Mr. Simitis reiterated the need to politically confront the phenomenon of terrorism.
Meabwhile Greek and international officials will meet in Athens this week to review security plans for the 2004 Olympic Games after bomb attacks in neighboring Turkey, government sources were quoted on Sunday as saying. The Greek newspaper Ethnos said that a high level Scotland Yard official as well as representatives from seven countries that have advised Greece on its Games security program would be attending the emergency meeting.
The paper added that according to its sources, 200 FBI agents were already in Greece to monitor the situation, and there was increased discussion on whether NATO would be involved in Games security.
Greece has drawn up the biggest ever security plan for the Olympics at a cost of more than 650 million euros ($774.6 million). At least 45,000 police, military and other security staff will be deployed during the Games next August.
CONCERNS OVER TURKEY
Greek security experts and the government said the attacks against their neighbor have raised new questions and concerns about the safety of the games and the stability of the region.
“The bell is tolling for everyone, and complacency is not permitted,” said Col. Lefteris Ikonomou, spokesman for the Greek police.
Many Greeks believed their country was fairly safe from al-Qaida attacks because they strongly opposed the war in Iraq, but Turkey also was against the U.S.-led invasion. The attacks Thursday in Istanbul were jointly claimed by al-Qaida and the militant Islamic Great Eastern Raiders’ Front, or IBDA-C.
Olympic security planners would not give details of how they would react to the Turkish attacks. But Ikonomou told The Associated Press that “every terrorist attack, wherever it happens, contains an element of worry and is taken into account.”
In a move that could foreshadow tighter security during the Olympics, Greek authorities immediately stepped up protection around the British and U.S. embassies, and companies with ties to those countries.
Greece also plans to ask NATO for three AWACS radar planes to guard against attacks from the air, according to defense sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ikonomou said the Olympic “plan has been has been adjusted for asymmetric threats” – a reference to suicide bombings and other potential terrorist strikes.
Officials said the attacks in Turkey – a Muslim but secular state with a porous land and sea border with Greece – could also lead to a less stable region. That could also force a reassessment of a security operation that already is the most expensive in Olympic history at $755 million.
“The Turkey attacks should definitely make the Olympic security planners jittery and force a long, hard look at the plans,” said Walter Purdy, director of the Terrorism Research Center in Burke, Va., and a top security planner for the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.
Foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said, “International terrorism concerns all countries and creates a problem of instability in our wider region. Efforts must be made from all sides to bolster cooperation to fight” terrorism”.
The head of the Athens Organizing Committee, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, has said she didn’t want the games to “look like a military zone.”
But Purdy said that unless the Greeks adopt the most stringent security, including intense scrutiny of all airport arrivals, the “Olympics will be vulnerable.”
According to experts, enhanced security plans for the Athens Games include: X-ray machines to scan trucks and cars to try to prevent bombings, pursuit of supplies from around the world to deal with biological and chemical attacks, and increased surveillance of Greece’s enormous immigrant population.
“Our general position is to have a full inventory of all the means available from all countries to face any eventuality because terrorism is unpredictable,” Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said after meeting with his European Union counterparts in Brussels.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has issued an advisory warning of al Qaeda’s “continued desire” to plot a terrorist attack on American interests abroad, but there has been no change in the U.S. terror threat level according to officials. A Homeland Security spokesman said there was no change however in the current color-coded threat level, which remains at “yellow” or an elevated risk of attack.