NEWS

Military, Athens Airport boost Olympic security

Greece’s military will use all of its resources to create an Olympic security umbrella that includes a 10,000-member protection and patrol unit, the Defense Ministry said late on Monday, adding that an additional 40,000 troops would be mobilized around Greece. «We are exceeding the limits,» Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou told reporters. «Issues of domestic security were not part of our mandate but now we are stretching ourselves.» It will be the first time since democracy was restored in Greece following a 1967-74 military dictatorship that the armed forces have been called on to play a role in domestic security. «Domestic security was off limits to the military. With the agreement of all the political parties we decided to do so because the police could not do it by themselves,» Papantoniou said. The 10,000 officers – comprising army, air force and navy personnel – will mainly be deployed in and around Athens, securing Olympic venues and major infrastructure works as well as preparing against any potential nuclear and biochemical attack. The additional 40,000 will work toward sealing off the EU member state’s borders with Albania, Turkey, Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia prior to and during the Games, Papantoniou said. «These 40,000 members of our armed forces will contribute to this security,» he said. «This is a major challenge and we will be ready to deal with it.» The above is in addition to military pilots flying surveillance aircraft and warplanes over Greece during the Games, navy warships helping protect harbors and patrol sea lanes, and hundreds of military doctors on standby, the ministry said. The plans are part of the biggest and costliest security operation in Olympic history. Army officials said the large-scale involvement of the Greek military was deemed necessary after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States and a series of other actions carried out by the Al Qaeda network or its offshoots – including last November’s suicide bombings in neighboring Turkey. Meanwhile, officials at Athens airport have revealed that the facility is to intensify checks on departing passengers to help ensure that no 9/11-style hijackers force a plane to crash into an Olympic venue or site. Airport security boss Anastasios Papanicolaou said the checks, including screening for explosives and body searches, would begin six weeks before the August 13 opening ceremony. «One key concern of security experts around the world is to prevent an event similar to September 11 from happening again,» he told Reuters in an interview. Papanicolaou said Athens International Airport would double security staff for the Games and warned tighter security would mean longer queues. «In other words, we can say ‘total security,’ but these measures will create longer queues, longer waiting times,» he said. For the three months around the world’s biggest sporting event, the airport will have some 1,500 security staff, he said. Normally handling around 12 million passengers a year, it expects 1.5 million more because of the Games, a 30 percent rise over normal summer traffic. Asked whether the Al Qaeda network, believed to be behind the September 11 attacks, was the main risk, Papanicolaou said it would be wrong to focus on any particular threat. «If security experts concentrate on one, two or three identified terrorist groups, they’ve lost the game. Our job is to protect people from all kinds of threats.» His predecessor Panayiotis Tassopoulos, who quit in August, said last month that security staff lacked the expertise needed to handle the increased Olympic responsibilities, but Papanicolaou dismissed such worries. «The feedback from international aviation security organizations says that we spend much more time training and retraining our staff than most other airports.» (Page 8) (AP, Reuters)