NEWS

Shock over bombings

Greece reacted with horror to yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Istanbul, the second since the suicide bombings of two synagogues in the city on Saturday. In a widely repeated phrase, a senior police official said, «When your neighbor’s house is burning you have to prepare to defend yours as well.» Prime Minister Costas Simitis, opposition leader Costas Karamanlis and all other political leaders expressed disgust at the bombings, solidarity with the Turkish people and their condolences for the families of the victims. Greek security officials, who are preparing for the Athens 2004 Olympics, stressed that all precautions are being taken to protect the Games. «Greece is on the alert,» government spokesman Christos Protopapas said. More specifically, police officials pointed out the pre-emptive nature of preparations. As some of those responsible for planning Olympic security said, the Games had given Greece the advantage of beginning to prepare security a while back, so it has been on the alert and has been testing a series of responses to possible terrorist threats. Furthermore, officials say that security services have been keeping a close eye on Muslim groups from Evros province in the northeast to the island of Crete in the south. New arrivals of illegal immigrants are noted and officials are gathering and investigating information on petty crimes and other activities which might appear normal but which could hide suspicious activities – such as the theft or rental of vehicles and weapons. Intelligence gathering is the first step in defense. The second is strengthening of security around possible targets. Such measures had already been taken around the embassies of the United States, Britain and Israel, synagogues, and other buildings and people. «If a truck loaded with explosives sets out to hit its target we will have failed,» a top police officer told Kathimerini, stressing the focus on pre-emption. «Whatever measures you may take around the target, the vehicle will get more or less close to it and the explosion will occur. The issue is for us to stamp out the action at its start, to prevent the truck from being stolen, to prevent the would-be bombers getting the explosives.» Although he said there was no indication that the terror that had hit Istanbul was headed this way, he added, «In any case, we have to keep our eyes open and we have them open.» Simitis wrote to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying, «We condemn these abhorrent and cowardly attacks.» The Foreign Ministry offered medical assistance and pledged to help Turkey fight terrorism.