Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Greek security keeping tabs on Muslims

OLYMPIC CONCERNS Amid fears that Islamic militants might attack the games, Muslim residents are growing increasingly angry over the surveillance of their district


A Greek police officer patrols the Nea Ionia Metro Station in Athens on Sunday. The head of the country's largest Muslim group has complained that police are using next month's Olympic Games as a pretext to oppress Muslims in the country and has called on all Islamic countries to boycott the games.


As the opening of the Olympic Games draws closer, the Greek police and foreign intelligence agencies have increased their activities in a predominately Muslim area of Athens, Greek officials say.

Residents of the district, whose narrow streets are lined with open-air shops selling such items as cement, clothes and onions, next to international call centers and places to wire money abroad, say they are incensed that they being treated as terrorism suspects.

Greek, American and British intelligence agencies have all tried to infiltrate the Muslim and Arab communities here, Greek officials said. But the Greeks asked for, and received, assistance from counterterrorism teams and intelligence operatives from Jordan and Egypt, the officials said. The Israelis have helped keep an eye on Arab embassies, they said.

About 100,000 people of Arab or Muslim background live in Athens, and they have generally not been militant, Greek officials said. But the officials' fear, heightened after the bombings in Madrid in March, is that al-Qaeda or some affiliated terrorist organization has planted a sleeper cell in this part of the city.

"If one were looking for a sleeper cell, this is where it would be," Alex Rondos, a former ambassador at large and coordinator for Olympic activities, said of the area, near Omonia Square in central Athens.

Rondos, who left office in March when the Socialist government was unseated, said his concerns arose more than a year ago, when he was working on various counterterrorism projects.

The possibility of a sleeper cell, however remote, is something that Greek officials were slow to grapple with, he said.

"There was a dangerous attitude of complacency," he said.

Fears of a possible attack by Islamic militants are not allayed by the statements made by Mehmet Imam, president of the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Supporting the Muslims in Greece, the country's largest Muslim organization. Imam has called on all Islamic countries to boycott the games, because of the fighting in the West Bank and Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq.

"He is an enemy," Imam said in an interview, about anyone who attends the games.

But he disavowed any link to al-Qaeda or any sympathy for Osama bin Laden. He said the Greek police were using the Olympic Games as a pretext to oppress Muslims.

Terrorism investigators in Europe have found cells in many countries, including France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and, most recently, Spain. But they have not found any ties leading to Greece, Greek and other European officials say.

Saudi Arabia has been sending money to various Muslim groups in Athens, Greek officials said, and the Greek government has spoken to the Saudi Embassy about it.

In trying to stop any potential terrorist from disrupting the games, the Greek government has had some important help beyond all the high-tech gear and spies sent by the US, Britain and other countries.

Libyean leader Mouammar Qaddafi has sent word to the Libyans in Athens that they should not engage in any acts of violence during the games, a Greek official said. The Palestinians have made a similar appeal to their residents here, who are said to number about 25,000, the official said. The Turkish government has promised Greece that it will crack down on smuggling operations that bring refugees to Turkey through Greek waters.

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