Greece sees Al Qaida threat to Olympics from Bosnian Arabs

Thursday, December 18, 2003

ATHENS Greece has determined that its national security interests are being threatened by Al Qaida-aligned Arab agents in Bosnia.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Costas Simitis has convened to discuss what officials termed the threat from an estimated 2,000 Bosnian Arabs to the Olympic Games in August 2004. Officials said Western intelligence agencies have assessed that some of those Arab nationals could be training to carry out attacks on Israeli, U.S. or other targets during the Olympics in Athens.

Officials said the threat of an Al Qaida-related attack will be one of the scenarios in a series of exercises scheduled to take place in February and March 2004. They said the United States has been pressing to revise security arrangements agreed upon a year ago.

[Last week, Greek prosecutors recommended life sentences for six November 17 insurgents convicted of killing Greek and Western diplomats and defense officials, Middle East Newsline reported. Sentencing of 15 November 17 insurgents by the three-judge panel is set for Wednesday.]

"Greece, as well as every other country, has the fundamental obligation to safeguard its internal and external security," Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said. "And it is evident that military planning for the country's security takes into consideration the simple fact that the country is a member-state of NATO and, consequently, our military planning takes NATO planning into consideration."

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A Greek government report distributed to the Cabinet asserted that Al Qaida has direct and indirect links with the Bosnian Arabs. Many of them were trained in Afghanistan and fought Serb forces during the Yugoslav civil war in the mid-1990s and later settled in Bosnia.

The report said the Bosnian Arabs have established a route for the smuggling of insurgents and explosives that begins in Bosnia, moves through the Balkans, Albania, Romania and to Greece. The Arabs were said to have engaged in drug and weapons smuggling as well as the harboring of Al Qaida and related insurgents who have escaped from the Middle East and South Asia.

Greek officials are concerned that the Al Qaida suicide bombings in Istanbul in November could be a prelude to insurgency attacks in Athens during the Olympic Games. But they denied any link between the Istanbul attacks and the capture of a shipload full of explosives off the coast of Greece last summer.

Security at the Olympic Games has been directed by a seven-member international coordinating panel comprised of Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Russia and the United States. Greece plans to deploy 10,000 military and security forces around the Olympic Village and Athens during the games.

"We would like greater response to exist, greater speed and better cooperation inside the joint venture," Venizelos said.

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