‘No Qaeda activity in the country’

The government yesterday angrily rejected allegations made in a New York Times article that terrorist group Al Qaeda and its affiliates operate in Greece. «Everything (yesterday’s) article in the New York Times contains relative to Al Qaeda and its activity in Greece is false and baseless,» Press and Mass Media Minister Christos Protopappas said in a statement issued yesterday afternoon. «Never has anything been detected with respect to the supposed activity of this terrorist group in our country,» Protopappas added. The article in case refers to US aviation safety investigators’ inspection of several international airports to determine their capabilities for defense against terrorists using shoulder-held missiles to down commercial planes. «The officials said the inspections had been completed at Athens, Istanbul and Manila and were nearing completion at Baghdad and Basra. Al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates have long been known to operate in Greece, Turkey and the Philippines, and American air carriers fly to all three countries,» the New York Times article said. «Concerning the passage about the (Athens International Airport), we remind people that it has been repeatedly inspected by international organizations on security issues and has been deemed one of the safest airports in the world,» Protopappas said. There is one further mention of Greece in the article: «While the Greek government has often had a testy relationship with the United States, it has been eager to show that Athens, which will be the site of next year’s summer Olympic Games, is safe from terrorism,» it says. An earlier paragraph said that inspections were conducted this spring and summer «at a dozen overseas airports that were considered prominent terrorist targets and that were located in foreign countries eager to cooperate with the United States on airport security issues.» No Al Qaeda operation has taken place in Greece. However, in the days following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, Greek authorities had said they were closely watching the activities of several dozen people suspected of links to Al Qaeda. Nothing more was heard about the investigation. As the host of the Olympics, Athens will spent an unprecedented sum, over $650 million, on security.