Fearing Olympic Terror, Athens Gears Up

ByABC News
June 23, 2003, 10:49 PM

June 26 -- At least there are 750 tons of explosives that Greek authorities won't have to worry about as they get set to protect what some fear could be the juiciest terror target of 2004: the Summer Olympics in Athens.

Greek special forces captured the explosives enough to level several towns along with 140,000 detonators this week when they boarded the freighter Baltic Sky, a rusty vessel that had been plying the Mediterranean for six weeks.

While officials are relieved the ship's contents can't be put to ill use, the seizure is focusing attention on the daunting security challenges Greece faces as it prepares to host one of the world's premiere international competitions, and officials are scrambling to make their capital city safe.

Athens is seeing "the greatest security operation since Alexander the Great marched through Persia," said Neil Fergus, a former Australian intelligence agent whose consulting firm Intelligent Risks is working on the upcoming games.

The question remains though: Will it be enough?

A Changed World

Kevin Wamsley, the director of the International Center for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario, told ABCNEWS that security officials for the upcoming Olympics face a revolutionary new situation.

With the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and then the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, "it would be naïve to say things haven't changed," he said.

Also, the time and location present particular challenges. The 2002 Winter Olympics took place without incident just months after the Sept. 11 attacks, but they took place in the relatively isolated confines of Salt Lake City, Utah. Athens is closer to the volatile Middle East, at a veritable crossroads of the world.

Attendance at the Winter Games is also traditionally one-third what it is at the Summer Games. There will be "more press, and more important, more television coverage. It will be more highly visible," Wamsley said.

An event of such size may be just too good for terrorists to ignore.