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Europe

Bombs Explode in Athens Ahead of Olympics

One hundred days before the Greek city plays host to the Olympics, three bombs exploded outside a police station. No one was injured, but the blasts rattled security forces worried about terror attacks during the event.

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Police investigators search the site of the attacks.

During the early morning hours Wednesday three bombs exploded outside a police station in the southern Athens suburb of Kallithea. The blasts broke windows in the building and rocked adjacent shops and apartments; no one was injured.

The explosions, which occurred within a half hour, came as the city struggles to ready itself for the Olympics on Aug. 13-29. With just 100 days left before the opening ceremony, Athens is well into the final stretch of preparations, including the planning of a major security operation designed to ward off fears of terror attacks.

A terrorist link?

Worried their security efforts could be thrown into question, Greek authorities were quick to play down a link between Wednesday's bombs and the Games. "None of the facts obtained so far indicate that today's incident is linked to preparation for the Olympics," Greek government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said in a statement.

Nonetheless, coming so shortly before the event, the blasts trigger fears among the international community, who worry Athens is not doing enough to ensure security.

"Any bomb that goes off in Athens is worrying," said Bob Elphinston, secretary general of the Australian Olympic committee and member of a seven-nation security advisory panel. "This is now the Olympic city and whether it's a coincidence that it's 100 days to the Games -- time will tell."

Homegrown violence

The police said their main line of investigation was into local extremist groups. The bombs -- each made from three sticks of dynamite triggered by alarm clocks -- were referred to as "homemade exploding devices." An anonymous caller to an Athens newspaper warned of the attacks about 10 minutes in advance, but gave no motive or claim of responsibility.

Police believe the bombings are the work of domestic groups, most likely one of several urban guerrilla organizations the authorities have cracked down on in recent months.

Under intense pressure to safeguard the Olympics, Greek security forces have been working to dismantle local terror groups and arrest members of the extremist organizations November 17 and the People's Revolutionary Struggle (ELA), which were blamed for twin bombings at a court complex in Athens last September.

But in recent months, the country has seen a resurgence in low-level urban violence, with a string of arson attacks against commercial targets and cars. Police believe the attacks are carried out by anarchist groups which do not have the capacity to stage large-scale operations.

In April, the U.S. State Department's annual report on terrorism said the "low-level bombings against an array of perceived establishment and so-called imperialist targets ... underscore the lingering nature of left-wing terrorism in Greece."

Athen Sommerolympiade 2004 Logo

Pictured are Athena, in orange shirt, and Phevos, the mascots for the Athens 2004 Olympics

Securing the Olympics

"Such things have happened frequently in the past," Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Evrypidis Stylianidis told Flash radio, referring to his country's struggle with domestic violence. "We must be on alert, but we should not exaggerate," he said, seeking to calm fears.

Whether local extremists or international terrorists, Athens has invested a great deal in protecting the Olympic Games, the first since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. It has allocated more than 50,000 police and army personnel to ensure security and is spending over 650 million euros ($780 million) on related equipment.

The overall price tag for security -- at least €1 billion -- makes the 2004 Games the most expensive in history. Designed to prevent and defend against a possible terror threat, the security system includes a planned citywide network of surveillance cameras and aerial patrols. Government officials have also appealed to the EU and NATO to provide assistance.

"The Greek authorities, in cooperation with the relevant European Union, United States and NATO authorities, have designed a security system which guarantees the Olympic Games will run smoothly," Roussopoulos said.

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