ATHENS.- The al-Qaeda network represents no specific local threat to Athens 2004 Olympic Games, US Ambassador to Greece, Thomas Miller told Athens financial daily “Imerisia” on Saturday. Commenting on a New York Times report last month claiming al-Qaeda operatives and affiliates were known to operate in Greece, ambassador Thomas Miller was quoted by “Imerisia” daily as saying: “I have no information that supports that article. We live in a dangerous world… and it is more productive for people like me to cooperate closer with the Greek government to make sure the Games are safe – and that is what we are doing.”
Earlier this week, Miller said the US team would be guarded by its own security forces in Athens, despite the biggest ever Games security plan, worth over $600-million, drafted by Greek organisers. Besides the United States, Australian officials said they will deploy its own forces to protect its Olympic team.
Recent media reports questioning security arrangements have prompted Prime Minister Costas Simitis to reassure critics that Greece will efficiently deal with any potential threat. Insisting Greece is a “true oasis” in an unstable world, the government defended its Olympic security and told teams they do not need to bring additional guards.
“If someone wants to bring people with the team on a little trip to see the games, they are free to do so,” government spokesman Christos Protopapas said. “They will be tourists. They won’t do anything else because security is guaranteed by Greek law enforcement.”
According to an Associated Press Report, at least 100 security agents may accompany the U.S. team to Athens as part of a $2.7 million special State Department security package, U.S. officials have said.
Greece has budgeted a record $600 million on security to host the first post-Sept. 11 Summer Olympics. Replying to concerns about the country’s long borders, Greek officials insist they have a comprehensive security plan for the Olympics and domestic terrorists groups have been crippled.
Greek authorities gained in confidence, after the arrests of more than 20 suspected terrorists, last year. Nineteen suspected members are on trial. The group is blamed for 23 killings since 1975, including U.S. officials, Turkish diplomats and a British defense attache.
Bomb attacks in a court complex last week, elevated worries about new groups using November 17-style urban guerrilla tactics, but government officials were still confident.
“Greece is a secure country. It is taking all the measures it can and must to carry out the 2004 Olympics in Athens securely,” Tilemahos Hitiris, deputy Minister of Press, said after a meeting led by Premier Costas Simitis and attended by ministers involved in Olympic planning.
“There should be no concern about the security of the Olympic Games and, more generally, about the security of the country,” Hitiris added.
No details were announced about what specifically was discussed in the meeting.
About 45 000 security officers – three times as many as in Sydney in 2000 – will be deployed during the 15 days of the Games. Games organisers say security, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001 on US cities, is a top priority.