British threat to pull out of Olympic games

THE chief executive of the British Olympic Association has threatened to withdraw the British team from the Athens games this summer unless its security can be guaranteed.

Amid fears the competitions will be the next target of the al-Qaeda terror group, Simon Clegg, the head of Britain’s Olympic effort, said he was prepared to take the "ultimate sanction".

Intelligence analysts fear the event is this year’s primary target for Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. There is growing speculation that the United States is privately threatening to pull out if security measures are not improved.

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In remarks which caused consternation in Athens, Mr Clegg said he was not prepared to compromise the security arrangements of the team.

"If the security situation demanded a change to the position of the BOA [British Olympic Association] with the ultimate sanction of not sending the team, then obviously, as a responsible organisation, that is something we would have to consider," he said in an interview. "We will not compromise the security arrangements for our team where we have responsibility for managing that team at the Olympic Games."

The warning came as security arrangements for the games dominated the agenda of yesterday’s meeting of European Union interior ministers in Brussels.

The emergency summit was called to discuss the implications of last week’s bomb attacks in Spain, which left 202 dead and more than 1,400 injured. But much of the talks focused on security for the Euro 2004 football championships in Portugal and the Olympics. Both are seen as potential targets for al-Qaeda, the prime suspects for the Madrid atrocities.

Juergen Storbeck, the head of Europol, the EU police agency, told the ministers he saw no immediate threat of new terrorist attacks, but stressed the need to "reinforce intelligence co-operation" for this summer’s games.

The meeting was preceded by a special gathering of security specialists, including representatives from the secret services, on Thursday, to share information on the latest terrorist activity.

The Greek government says it is spending 600 million on the security operation at the August games - three times the budget for Sydney in 2000 - which will see 40,000 police and troops patrol the Greek capital and the Olympic village.

Despite this, the British and Americans are understood to be concerned about serious gaps in planning. British defence firms hoping to bid to provide anti- terrorist equipment and security screening are understood to be deeply concerned at the slow pace of the Greeks’ preparations.

There is particular concern that the Olympic village, on the coast outside the centre of Athens, could be vulnerable to a gun-boat attack, similar to the suicide raid on the USS Cole off Yemen four years ago.

An inspection by the FBI last year reportedly found preparations "appalling" and "inadequate".

In a move to head off criticism about its security, last week, the Greek government made an unprecedented request to NATO to help guard the games.

NATO officials said they would respond positively and were working on ways to provide air and sea patrols, and protection against terrorist attacks.

Stratos Safioleas, the head of media for the Athens games, told The Scotsman that Greece was mounting an unprecedented security operation for the event, which is due to be attended by a record 202 nations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.