Security concerns for this summer’s Olympic Games intensified today after three bombs were planted at a police station in the host city Athens.
The explosions came 100 days before the start of the world’s greatest sporting event and led to further speculation that the threat of terrorism might keep some athletes away.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the present view was that the event should go ahead as planned but a number of politicians and sports chiefs in other countries expressed worries about the August 13 to 29 Games, the first summer Olympics since the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Greek authorities insisted the explosions, which damaged a police station and surrounding areas in the south of the city, had no connection to the Olympics and were likely to have been carried out by self-styled anarchists or other domestic extremists.
Premier Costas Caramanlis said: “This is an isolated incident which does not affect whatsoever the safety of the Olympic preparation.”
In the Commons, Mr Blair told Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy that the present view was that the Games should go ahead as planned.
“Of course we keep these things under review, but you should not take that, in any shape or form, as an indication that that is about to change
“We keep in constant dialogue with them but we have every faith in the way the Greek authorities are handling this.”
Australia, though, will “review the existing threat assessment,” its foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said.
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, said.
British administrators and athletes past and present sounded a more optimistic note, though British Olympic Association chairman Craig Reedie warned there was no margin for error.
He said: “There are no options – they simply have to get security as right as humanly possible.”
He added: “These bombs are bound to be a concern but it does seem to be domestic rather than international terrorism, it is nowhere near an Olympic facility and the only connection is that it is 100 days to go until the Games start.
“One wished it had not happened of course but thankfully no-one was badly hurt, and it will concentrate people’s minds even more on security, and they are pretty focused on that issue anyway.”
Lord Coe, a member of the International Athletics Federation, rejected “knee jerk” suggestions that the Games should be cancelled.
“We should not walk away from our Olympic obligations. No country should do that,” said Coe, who won two Olympic gold medals.
UK Athletics chief executive David Moorcroft said: “Security must be the highest priority and we are confident both the Greek organisers and the International Olympic Committee will be taking all the necessary measures to ensure this is the case.”
The explosions and safety concerns for athletes will be the chief topic at a meeting of the European Olympic Committee in Belgrade tomorrow and Friday, and will overshadow concerns about the readiness of facilities when the IOC’s co-ordination commission visits Athens on Sunday.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, but suspicion is likely to fall on extremist left wing groups linked to the November 17 terrorist network.
The group was severely weakened last year after its leaders were convicted for the murder of British diplomat Brigadier Stephen Saunders in Athens in June 2000, and other crimes.
But in September – after the terror group leaders had been arrested – timed blasts damaged a judicial complex in Athens and injured a police officer.
The twin bombings, 20 minutes apart, were claimed by a group calling itself Revolutionary Struggle and were thought to be a protest against crackdowns that toppled November 17.
The Greek authorities, already plagued by delays to building work on facilities for the games, have spent millions of pounds on security measures amid fears they could also be a target for Middle Eastern terrorists.
Precautions include a city-wide network of surveillance cameras and aerial patrols.
However Greek police yesterday threatened to wage a series of pre-Olympic strikes to demand danger money for helping safeguard the games.
Their union’s warning came after the cash-strapped government offered to give all officers a €2,200 bonus for work during the Games.
Police officials said they may start a series of strikes in mid-May.