NEWS

Olympic skills defused bus crisis

The peaceful end, at 12.40 a.m. yesterday, to the hijacking of an Attica KTEL bus was put down to the pre-Olympics training of Greek security forces, while the government called for there to be no backlash against minorities after the two gunmen involved were revealed to be Albanian nationals. «We handled a situation involving 23 hostages in extremely difficult and complicated conditions. The coolness, coordination and professionalism of the Greek police resulted in a positive outcome without victims and violence. The experience gained during the Olympic Games did not go to waste,» said Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis. He added that the police had run three training exercises involving bus hijackings before the Games. Voulgarakis said that the use of CCTV cameras along Marathonos Avenue, where the bus had come to a halt, was also vital to the success of the operation. The cameras were part of the surveillance system used during the Games but had been switched off since then due to a data protection ruling. The government obtained special permission to use them to monitor the hijacking. Voulgarakis also emphasized the need for calm after it was confirmed yesterday that the two gunmen who seized the bus were Albanian. «The fact that two immigrants were involved in this incident should in no way affect our perceptions and behavior. After all, we are an open, democratic and progressive society. A society without discrimination and exclusion,» said Voulgarakis. The two hijackers, Nzazi Resouli and Leonard Mouratatz, both aged 24, claimed to be house painters who had lived in the country for over six years. They appeared before a prosecutor and were charged with multiple counts of abduction and attempted homicide, bodily harm, serious material damage and the illegal bearing and use of firearms. The Albanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that it was deeply saddened at the event and that these type of actions were not representative of the majority of Albanians living in Greece. The ministry said that it was convinced the incident would not affect good relations between the two countries. Voulgarakis said that the plan to free the hostages almost went awry twice when the hijackers communicated with two television stations and threatened to blow up the bus. The minister said that this cut the trained police negotiators out of the process and gave the gunmen the impression that they were in charge of the situation and in a position to make demands. He added that police chiefs were in constant contact with the media to make sure no information that could upset the hostage crisis would be leaked.