Turin Guards against Terrorism, Activists ; A Leader in Europe's Crackdown on Militants, Italy Had a Head Start on Olympic Security

By Peter Ford writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 2006 | Go to article overview

Turin Guards against Terrorism, Activists ; A Leader in Europe's Crackdown on Militants, Italy Had a Head Start on Olympic Security


Peter Ford writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


As if she did not have enough to worry about, the deputy president of the Turin Winter Olympics organizing committee went to see the Oscar-nominated movie "Munich" the other evening. It was, she acknowledges, a mistake to have reminded herself of the 1972 games, when Palestinian gunmen killed 11 Israeli athletes.

"I know we are in good hands," says Evelina Christillin. "But still, I couldn't help thinking...."

A terrorist attack is only one of the threats that Games organizers are bracing to meet as Friday's opening day approaches. More likely, they say, are attempts by Italian radicals to disrupt the Games in a bid to draw attention to their causes.

"The information we have does not point to a particular risk" of a terrorist threat, says Roberto Massucci, deputy head of the special security team the Italian government has assembled to guard the Games. "But there is also a threat from political groups seeking to publicize their issues, and it is possible that anarchists could infiltrate demonstrations" to cause violence, he adds.

About 15,000 policemen and soldiers, along with firemen trained to deal with nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks, have been drafted to Turin and Olympic venues in the nearby mountains. Three hundred snipers on skis will patrol the slopes, bomb-sniffing dogs will check spectators, and an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane lent by NATO will scan the skies for aerial danger.

"The Italians are tremendously professional in protecting and providing security for such events, and from everything I saw, everything is well prepared and ready for the Olympics," FBI director Robert Mueller said after a recent visit to Turin.

Though the expected $250 million security bill is less than a quarter of what Athens spent to protect the 2004 Summer Games, Italy is not starting from scratch, officials point out. The government's close relationship with Washington, its troops in Iraq, and a large immigrant Muslim population means security forces have been on high alert since 9/11.

"The Italian government is far more sophisticated and has a far better security infrastructure than the Greeks," says Robert Sikellis, managing director of Vance, a US security company that is advising US corporations sponsoring the Games.

The Italian police also have experience to draw on, such as the way they handled security for 2 million pilgrims and more than 150 world leaders at Pope John Paul II's funeral in Rome last April.

The Olympic challenge, however, is greater: Athletes will compete over 17 days at 16 venues spread over a wide area of difficult terrain, possibly beset by poor weather. …

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