Balkan Strategic Studies

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December 22, 2003

Greek Government Begins to Take Steps to Address Balkan Islamist Threat to Olympics

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. The Greek Government has begun to stress the threat to the August 2004 Athens  Summer Olympics from Bosnian Islamist terrorists, confirming the series of threat assessments issued by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily over recent months. The Greek Government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis has, until now, been denying the existence of a threat from this quarter, a position which had bolstered the claims by Bosnia-Herzegovina High Representative Paddy Ashdown whose office has not wished to acknowledge the worsening Bosnian terrorist climate.

The admission of the threat paves the way for the US to apply pressure to the Bosnia-Herzegovina Government and to the internationally-appointed Office of the High Representative, which includes the US-appointed Amb. Donald Hays, apart from the European Union (EU) appointee, Lord Ashdown. Given the US State Dept. support for Amb. Hays, who was a Clinton Administration supporter and close colleague of Clinton State Dept. appointee Richard Holbrooke, the issue seems likely to be one which again reinforces divisions between the White House and Defense Department, on the one hand, and the State Dept., on the other.

However, given that the threat to the Olympics is now so great that either the Games could be canceled or a major incident could occur at the event, there is now very real pressure on the State Dept. to monitor the situation more closely in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including the wider threat to the region from a renewal of radical Islamist terrorist, guerilla and possibly formal warfare to achieve objectives such as the elimination of the Bosnian component state, Republica Srpska.

Details of the Greek Government’s discreet admission of concern was contained in a report in the online newspaper, World, in a report from Athens, datelined December 18, 2003. It coincided with the GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily report, prepared the same day and published on December 19, 2003, entitled Olympic Security Jeopardized by Corruption, Escalating Terrorist Threat. The World Tribe report was entitled Greece sees Al Qaida threat to Olympics from Bosnian Arabs, and noted:

“Greece has determined that its national security interests are being threatened by Al Qaida-aligned Arab agents in Bosnia.”

“The Cabinet of Prime Minister Costas Simitis has convened to discuss what officials termed the threat from an estimated 2,000 Bosnian Arabs to the Olympic Games in August 2004. Officials said Western intelligence agencies have assessed that some of those Arab nationals could be training to carry out attacks on Israeli, U.S. or other targets during the Olympics in Athens.”

“Officials said the threat of an Al Qaida-related attack will be one of the scenarios in a series of exercises scheduled to take place in February and March 2004. They said the United States has been pressing to revise security arrangements agreed upon a year ago.”

The World Tribune report, in fact, to a large extent played down the extent of the threat, but cited a Greek government report distributed to the Cabinet, asserting that al-Qaida had direct and indirect links with the “Bosnian Arabs”, noting that “Many of them were trained in Afghanistan and fought [against] Serb forces during the Yugoslav civil war in the mid-1990s and later settled in Bosnia.” In fact, as GIS reports have noted, the threat includes Bosnian Islamists who have had the direct support of the radical Islamist SDA Government of the late Pres. Alija Izetbegovic, a close confidante of both former US Pres. William Clinton and one of his key Balkan-oriented officials, Richard Holbrooke.

The Greek report cited by World Tribune also confirms earlier GIS reports, noting that “Bosnian Arabs have established a route for the smuggling of insurgents and explosives that begins in Bosnia, moves through the Balkans, Albania, Romania and to Greece. The Arabs were said to have engaged in drug and weapons smuggling as well as the harboring of Al Qaida and related insurgents who have escaped from the Middle East and South Asia.”

And like the GIS reports, the newspaper said that Greek officials were concerned that the al-Qaida “martyr bombings” in Istanbul could be a prelude to insurgency attacks on the Olympics. However, GIS also noted the linkage between the Istanbul bombings and the Iranian clerical Government, which the Greek Government is reluctant to acknowledge because of its long-standing strategic ties with Iran. Those ties are critical for Greece, which sees Iran as an ally guarding the rear of Turkey, in the event that Turkey should ever resume military pressure on Greece. However, this Service is aware that Greek Government officials have been repeatedly cautioned to understand the difference between strategic relations between Greece and Iran as a long-term fundamental, as opposed to relations with the current Iranian clerical Administration.

World Tribune quoted “Greek officials” as denying any link between the Istanbul attacks and the capture of a shipload full of explosives off the coast of Greece in the Summer of 2003. However, this denial was an expression of wishful thinking, similarly expressed in the reluctance of the Greek Government — and US and EU governments — to acknowledge the growth of Iranian-, al-Qaida- and Bosnian Government-related terrorism which targets not only the Olympics but also Western interests in a broader context. As well, although the World Tribune citation of the Greek report did not note it, the Islamist terrorist threat to the Games specifically has targeted Muslim participating teams, who are meant to be “punished” for enjoying normal relations with non-Muslim states.

The World Tribune report, obviously reflecting authoritative sourcing, noted: “Security at the Olympic Games has been directed by a seven-member international coordinating panel comprised of Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Russia and the United States. Greece plans to deploy 10,000 military and security forces around the Olympic Village and Athens during the games.”