Greek Domestic Security an Issue Before Olympics
Government: No Terrorist Activity in Country; Militant Group Claims Credit for Recent Bombing
By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 14, 2004; Page D01
ATHENS, May 13 -- Greek security officials declared there are no terrorist groups or cells within the country's borders that pose a threat to the Olympic Games in August, despite a claim made by a militant group Thursday that it had dynamited a police station here last week to protest the coming influx of tourists, business executives and world leaders.
In a statement published Thursday in the weekly newspaper To Pontiki, a group called Revolutionary Struggle took responsibility for the May 5 triple bombing and said it carried out the attack to show the "vulnerability" of Greece's security measures. Although it did not threaten future strikes, the group denounced "wealthy" Western visitors and business leaders who are planning to attend the Olympics as "undesirable."
Another, smaller bombing damaged a Greek bank here Thursday, and authorities said they also found two explosive devices at a British bank nearby. No one claimed responsibility for those incidents, which did not result in injuries.
Greek authorities had played down last week's bombings, which occurred in the pre-dawn hours and injured no one, as the work of anarchists who regularly set off minor explosions with the intent of making political statements but not harming people. Government officials had also stated repeatedly that last week's attack was in no way tied to the Olympics, even though it occurred precisely 100 days before the Opening Ceremonies are scheduled to take place in Athens.
In an interview Wednesday, George Voulgarakis, the Greek minister for public order and the country's top security official, called the bombing "an isolated incident, in no way connected to the Olympics." Asked how he could be sure, given that authorities have not arrested anyone or named any suspects, he responded: "I have my sources."
In March the Revolutionary Struggle planted a crude bomb outside a Citibank branch that was defused by police. Authorities also believe the same outfit ignited two bombs at a local courthouse last September, wounding an officer.
Greek authorities, other Western officials and security experts said in interviews this week that they remained far less worried about such acts of violence than the possibility that Islamic radicals sympathetic to the al Qaeda terrorist network would try to slip into the country and stage a catastrophic attack on the Olympics.
"That specific incident was blown out of proportion," Spyros Capralos, Greece's general secretary for the Olympics, said of last week's explosion. "We've always had similar blasts that go off like that left and right."
The Greek government has said it will spend at least $1.2 billion to protect athletes and visitors to the Olympics and will deploy 70,000 police officers, troops and firefighters to provide security. Greece has also asked NATO to patrol the skies and waterways, and is relying on seven nations, including the United States, to provide intelligence on potential terrorist threats as well as other assistance.
Government and Olympic officials in recent days have gone to great lengths to convey a sense of safety, with some making blanket promises that no violence will break out during the Games, scheduled for Aug. 13-29.
"We guarantee a safe Games," Fanny Palli-Petralia, the deputy minister of culture, whose agency is overseeing preparations for the Olympics, said in an interview. "From July on, the most safe place in the world will be Athens and Greece."
Darryl Seibel, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said Thursday the organization remains confident in Greece's preparations.
"We know this is a matter being addressed by the authorities in Greece," USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said. "It hasn't caused us any additional or undue concern."
On Friday, the Greek government and its allies will begin a three-day security exercise to practice their response to potential terrorist strikes. On May 20, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is scheduled to visit Washington to meet with President Bush to discuss the Olympics, with security the main subject. Greece has worked closely with the United States to coordinate intelligence efforts and training for the Games. Last week, Voulgarakis was in Washington to brief Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, the CIA and State Department officials.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company