NATO expands anti-terror patrols in Mediterranean

BRUSSELS – NATO allies agreed to widen their anti-terrorist naval patrols to the entire Mediterranean Sea yesterday as they began analyzing a Greek request for increased protection for this summer’s Olympic Games. Alliance officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision to widen the patrols beyond the eastern Mediterranean and the Straits of Gibraltar had been in the works for months and was not directly related to last Thursday’s terrorist bombings in Spain. However, the attacks in Madrid have renewed NATO’s determination to tackle terrorism, one official said. He added that the alliance was sure to meet Athens’s request for Olympic support as well. The formal request from the Greek government arrived at alliance headquarters on Monday and will be reviewed by NATO military experts. Greece is seeking air cover from NATO’s fleet of AWACS surveillance planes; offshore naval support; intelligence; protection from chemical, radiological or bio-terror attacks; and civil emergency planning to help civilian authorities cope with the aftermath of a major incident. NATO sent AWACS to provide air cover for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and has regularly deployed them to overfly high-risk events in Europe, such as major political summits. Separately, NATO said it would seek support from non-NATO nations around the Mediterranean to help expand its naval operation, which has monitored shipping in the eastern Mediterranean and Straits of Gibraltar since the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. NATO is expected to open talks with Arab nations such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt about participating with warships, port facilities and intelligence. The alliance is also seeking permission from more nations around the Mediterranean to stop and search their merchant vessels if they appear suspicious. Such permission is required under international law. Since the launch of NATO’s «Operation Active Endeavor» on October 18, 2001, NATO warships have hailed 41,000 vessels in the Mediterranean and boarded 47. They have also escorted 414 cargo ships through the Straits of Gibraltar – where allied nations had been concerned about possible terrorist attacks on shipping. Allied officials claim the mission has deterred terrorists from carrying out attacks on shipping or using Mediterranean sea routes to transport material.

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