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Officials: Bombs not linked to Games

5/6/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Greece's efforts to calm fears about
Olympic security were rocked by three bombs that exploded at dawn
Wednesday -- 100 days before the Summer Games.

The government assigned top anti-terrorist agents to investigate
the bombings, which caused no injuries but damaged a suburban
police station.

Officials insisted there was no link to the Aug. 13-29 Olympics
and probably were carried out by self-styled anarchists or other
domestic extremists.

Still, the timing of the blasts -- exactly 100 days before the
opening ceremony in Athens -- offered multiple Olympic ties.

A Greek delegation, led by the public order minister and the
head of the Greek police, is in Washington for talks on how to
safeguard the first Summer Olympics since the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks on the United States.

On Monday, the IOC will open its final review of Athens'
preparations, which have been beset by construction delays and
other glitches.

Premier Costas Caramanlis called the bombing "an isolated
incident which does not affect whatsoever the safety of the Olympic
preparation."

Greek Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis, who discussed
Olympic security during a meeting in Washington on Wednesday with
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, blamed the violence on local
extremists.

"It doesn't really concern us according to the security
measures for the games," he said.

After the 30-minute meeting, Ridge spokesman Brian
Roehrkasse said the secretary believes the Greeks "have made
progress."

Greece's anti-terrorist units took over the investigation.
Police said foot patrols and other surveillance will be increased.

"I don't think panic is created by this kind of small
incident," Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni said in Paris, where she
was promoting her city.

But worries loom despite Olympic security spending of more than
$1.2 billion, including assistance from NATO.

"It's definitely got caught up in my head," said defending
Olympic tennis gold medalist Venus Williams, who has said she is
looking forward to competing in Athens.

"I'll just hope for the best and say my prayers -- for everyone
in general," she said at the German Open in Berlin.

U.S. pole vaulter Stacy Dragila, also an Olympic champion, said
she's aware "there's a possibility of terrorist attacks. It is
scary for the world at this time."

She added, however: "I know that our governing body will not
send us to a place that they don't feel is safe enough for us to
go."

The U.S. Olympic Committee said its position has not changed.

"We have every expectation and every reason to believe our team
will be in Athens for the games this August," USOC spokesman
Darryl Seibel said.

The Athens organizing committee "is implementing a
comprehensive security plan that will provide a safe and secure
environment for athletes from every nation," he said.

Thomas Bach, a vice president of the International Olympic
Committee, expressed the reality of any large event: "We can only
repeat openly that 100 percent security doesn't exist."

Australia -- host of the 2000 Sydney Games -- will "review the
existing threat assessment," said its foreign minister, Alexander
Downer. Australia is part of a seven-nation security advisory panel
for Athens that includes the United States, Britain and France.

"These three bombings plunge us back into a problem that's
important [and] troubling," France's Olympic Committee president,
Henry Serandour, told France Info radio.

But French President Jacques Chirac urged nations to "stand
by" Greece, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said "the games
should go on as planned."

"This does not scare us at all," said Javier Valenzuela, a
government spokesman in Spain, where 191 people died in terrorist
bombings in March.

Israeli IOC member Alex Gilady said the games would not be
deterred by the bombings or other threats.

"This is not a cause for panic," he said from Tel Aviv. "This
sharpens everyone's attention. But I can't imagine any national
Olympic Committee seriously considering not going to the games. I'm
sure there will be 202 countries marching into the opening
ceremony."

Last week, the IOC said it had taken out a $170 million
insurance policy to protect against the Athens Games' being called
off because of war, terrorism or natural disasters. The
unprecedented policy is to guarantee that the IOC and its
affiliated bodies have enough money to continue operations in the
event of a cancellation.

An anonymous caller to an Athens newspaper warned of Wednesday's
bombings about 10 minutes in advance. But there was no immediate
claim of responsibility for the attacks, carried out with sticks of
dynamite rigged with alarm clocks that exploded within a half-hour
span in the suburb of Kalithea. The area is not near any key
Olympic sites or hotels.

The bombs appeared intended to cause casualties despite the tip
to the newspaper, police said. Parts of the building, which
includes several police agencies, were damaged, and windows were
shattered in nearby apartments.

"This is something very serious," Kalithea Mayor Constantinos
Askounis told Alpha radio. "It takes on a different dimension with
the Olympics."

Anti-Olympic marches and other events have been staged in
Athens, but violence is rare.

In February, a group using the names of the Olympic mascots,
Phevos and Athena, claimed responsibility for firebombing two
Environment Ministry trucks during IOC meetings in Athens.

Authorities said they crippled the most dangerous domestic
terrorist threat with the convictions last year of 19 members of
the group November 17, blamed for 23 killings and dozens of other
attacks since 1975.

But smaller groups have continued to carry out bombings and
arson attacks in Athens and other Greek cities. Most attacks have
been on cars and commercial targets and rarely cause injuries.