Balkan Strategic Studies

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December 11, 2003

Greek Government Moves to Demonstrate Security in Advance of Olympics, But Remains Hampered by Turkish and Other Realities

Analysis. By Gregory Copley, Editor, GIS. The Greek Government and the Greek legal and national security systems have continued to escalate both substantive and symbolic efforts to demonstrate that the threat of terrorism has been dealt with in advance of the Summer 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. However, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily sources continue to receive intelligence about the escalating terrorist threat, both directly to the Olympics, and (in some instances using the Olympic focus) in the Balkan region surrounding Greece.

A Greek special court trying the “November 17” (17N) terrorist group case on December 10, 2003, announced the proposed sentences for the 15 defendants convicted in the rulings announced on December 8, 2003. Four other defendants were acquitted in the verdicts passed down that day. The court was now expected to due to pass down the sentences during the week of December 14, 2003. Bench prosecutor Christos Lambrou, representing the State, called for multiple life sentences for 17N leader Alexandros Giotopoulos (21 life sentences), main assassin Dimitris Koufodinas (13), Xiros brothers Savvas (six) and Christodoulos (10), and Vassilis Tzortzatos (three), and a life sentence for Iraklis Kostaris.1

And while the 17N terrorist group was a significant problem for the Greek Government, it did not — being Greek and linked more to the generic communist terror groups of the Cold War — represent the mainstream terrorist threat now facing the Olympics and the Balkans. The recommended sentencing of the 17N terrorists, and the publicity attendant to it, was intended to serve as both a deterrent and as a demonstration of the Greek Government’s seriousness and success in counter-terror operations, signifying the safety of the coming Olympics.

However, Greek sources acknowledge that despite an unprecedented budget for counter-terror operations in Greece, in preparation for the Games, the Islamist terror threat has continued to grow. Significantly, Greek authorities are aware of the widespread coordination of Olympics-related terror planning among Islamist groups — including Islamist terror cells among the Uighurs of Xinjiang, in the PRC — they have not yet come to grips with the Islamist capabilities to move terrorists into Greece from the Balkans and Turkey. Both al-Qaida and the Iranian Government have been working since before the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991-92 to embed and develop support, training and operational terrorist capabilities in Bosnia and southern Serbia (including Kosovo), and to utilize basing and transit/logistics through Albania.

Turkey, always a transit zone (like Georgia) for overland logistics for al-Qaida and Iran to the Balkans (including the transit of Afghanistan-produced heroin, marketed in Europe by Albanian Islamists and co-opted criminal groups), has now become a target for Iranian-backed terrorist operations because of Turkey’s alliance with Israel and its geo-strategic threat to Iran, particularly as Iran itself becomes geographically isolated. The porosity of Turkey as a terrorist/narcotics transit area to the Balkans/Europe has been compounded by the polarizing impact on Turkish society of both the recent Islamist terrorism in the country and by Turkey’s own concerns over isolation from Europe and the US.

This has been further compounded by the fact that the Cyprus issue has been coming to a head in the latter part of 2003, straining Turkish-Greek strategic and intelligence relations at a time when both Greece and Turkey need to cooperate in the build-up of Islamist terrorism related to both the Olympics and to the Bosnian and Kosovo issues during 2003-2004. Apart from the concerns over the Cyprus issue, which has become, as well, an iconographic issue for Turkey, which finds it difficult to withdraw its troops and recognition from northern Cyprus, the Turkish Government does not wish to acknowledge that it has allowed the Islamist problem — with the attendant trafficking in narcotics and other smuggled goods into the Balkans — to continue because of what could be called “sentimental” ties to Bosnian and Serbian Islamists, reflecting links to the old Ottoman occupation of the Balkans.

Significantly, however, the Turkish support for the late Bosnian political and Islamist terrorist leader, Alija Izetbegovic, and continuing support for Izetbegovic’s SDA party, actually also supports the groups which conduct terrorism within Turkey itself. But the fact remains that Turkey is now embedded into the al-Qaida/Iranian logistical and political chain in the Balkans — and therefore into narcotrafficking and other smuggling activities into Western Europe — because of these “sentimental” ties as well as through direct corruption of Turkish officials implicated in the smuggling activities. These activities have direct parallels with the corruption, essentially financially, of Pakistani officials who supported the Taliban and al-Qaida operations in Afghanistan.

Equally significantly, as the Government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks of upholding the principles of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Mustafa Atatürk, the Turkish Government has either forgotten or is deliberately violating Atatürk’s tenet that Turkey should forget pan-Turkism and the old Ottoman Empire, and work toward modernization and a European identity. Both Prime Minister Erdogan (and Foreign Minister/Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gul) and the Turkish General Staff have believed that they can have both pan-Turkism — and the belief in Turkish rights to long-lost Ottoman control of the Balkans and Cyprus — as well as modernization.

This has directly hampered both Turkish entry into the European Union (EU) and its economic appeal to foreign investors and lenders, compounding its growing strategic isolation. What is important is that this is now coming to a head at a critical time in the region, highlighting, for example:

By resisting the resolution of the Cyprus problem (and by continuing Turkish occupation of the northern 37 percent of the island); by supporting, de facto (although opposing de jure) the Iranian clerical leadership’s international terrorism and narcotrafficking; by refusing to work toward the best possible outcome in Iraq; and by allowing continued support for Islamist logistics through Turkey (often for reasons of financial corruption as well as “sentiment”); and by continuing political support for radical Islamists in Bosnia, the Turkish Government has actually contributed massively to the worsening economic and strategic/security position of Turkey.

Having said that, the Greek Government, by insisting that its massive commitment of budgets and conventional counter-terror resources have the Olympics security issue under control, has still to “grasp the nettle” in building a true capability to suppress terrorist operations from being mounted from the Balkans. Much of this is due to the fact that a number of regional governments, as well as the EU itself and the US, do not wish to confront the reality that terrorist operations have been escalating in Kosovo, southern Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina despite the presence of SFOR (the NATO Stabilization Force) in Bosnia and KFOR (the Kosovo peacekeeping force) in Kosovo. No-one — and particularly not the EU-appointed High Representative in Bosnia, Lord Ashdown, nor his deputy High Representative, Amb. Donald Hays — wishes to admit that they supported the Islamist group (Izetbegovic’s SDA and its allies) which was always a principal component of the al-Qaida and Iranian strategic plan.

Similarly, no-one in the EU or the US governments wish to admit that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UCK), which now operates both as the legal Kosovo Protection Corps and as the Macedonian National Liberation Army, has, like the SDA with which it is intimately and integrally associated, has been the main instrument of al-Qaida- and Iranian-related narcotrafficking and terrorism into Western Europe. And that both the SDA and KLA have links into the September 11, 2001, terrorism against the United States.

These “nettles” must be grasped by the Greek Government and by its allies in the EU and US if proper security is to be achieved for the 2004 Olympics, because specific counter-terror intelligence and counter-terror special operations must, perforce, engage available assets in the region, namely in Serbia-Montenegro (particularly drawing on the Cobra special forces/reconn. capabilities), and the intelligence services of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Republica Srpska (a republic within Bosnia-Herzegovina), and Turkey. Yet within this framework, Turkey does not wish to admit complicity of some of its officials in the problem; Lord Ashdown and Amb. Hays in Bosnia have attempted — at the urging of the SDA — to eliminate Republica Srpska’s very capable counter-terror intelligence capabilities by merging the RS intelligence service into a “national” Bosnia-Herzegovina service dominated by the SDA’s Islamists; and the Serbian leadership is reluctant to openly address the Islamist issue for fear of Western publicity accusing it of an anti-Muslim bias.

Israeli, Russian, Australian and US security officials concerned with the Olympics, and with advising the Greek Government, have all indicated that the situation for the Games remains challenging. They have yet to work with the Greek security authorities, however, in presenting a united front to the EU and US to address the underlying problems which lie in the complacency within Sarajevo (where the High Representative has strong reasons not to admit that Islamist terrorism is again rising), as well as within the Kosovo UN management, and in Turkey (which is faced with the real choice, finally, as to whether to adopt Atatürkism or whether to revert to a sentimental pan-Turkism which, in any event, can never recreate the Ottoman Empire, even when it did function effectively).


1. Below are the bench prosecutor’s proposed prison sentences for the 15 convicted 17N members: