Greece rattled by Spain blast, asks NATO help for Olympics security

Monday, March 15, 2004

ATHENS Greece, shaken by Al Qaida's massive bombing attack in Spain, has requested NATO help to protect the Olympic Games.

Greek officials said the government in Athens has formally asked NATO for assistance in securing the Olympic Games in August, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the request from NATO included aircraft and naval vessels to patrol Greece's air space and territorial waters.

"The government has asked for the contribution of NATO for the security of the Olympic Games," a Foreign Ministry statement said on Friday. "This contribution will concern air control and joint patrolling of the sea and for protection against a nuclear, biological or chemical attack."

The request was announced one day after 200 people were killed in multiple bombings in commuter trains in Madrid. Al Qaida has claimed responsibility and warned that other allies of the United States would be targeted next.

Officials said Greece has increased deployment of troops and security officers at airports and border crossings. They said Athens was concerned that Al Qaida would send operatives disguised as migrant laborers to Greece.

Vice Admiral Christos Delimihalis, commander of the Hellenic Coast Guard, said authorities have intensified counter-insurgency measures at all Greek ports. He said the decision was taken in consultation with new Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis, who was briefed on planned security measures in ports and areas under coast guard jurisdiction for the Olympic Games.

Last week, Greece, spending about $800 million to guard athletes and facilities, launched a two week exercise to test security systems as well as the response of troops deployed in the Olympic Games.

Greece plans to deploy more than 50,000 troops as well as helicopters, a blimp and airborne early-warning and control system aircraft. Authorities also intend to impose a no-fly zone around key sites in Greece during the games.

Over the weekend, Greek authorities found a small quantity of explosives and an electronic detonator under a train that was meant to have been loaded with propane in the northern port of Thessaloniki. Later, officials said that the 700 grams of explosives and the two detonators found under a train carriage were not connected.

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