Greece shrugged, but the rest of the world shuddered. The three bombs that went off just before dawn in the Athens district of Kallithea last Wednesday gutted one side of a police station, shattered windows up and down a leafy suburban street and jarred residents from their predawn slumber but they did not faze Maria Moirani. The Athenian housewife calmly dropped off her 8-year-old son at a nearby school that same morning. "I could have made more elaborate bombs than these guys," she scoffed. Athens sees scores of such attacks a year; Mary Bossi, a terrorism expert at the Athens-based Greek National Defense College, estimates at least 270 leftist or anarchist cells operate in and around the city. Most incidents are designed to send a message, however obscure, not to kill.
That's cold comfort, however, to the other 201 countries sending teams to the Athens Olympics. The timing of last week's explosions precisely 100 days before the opening of the Games summoned the nightmare scenario that has haunted organizers since 9/11: a terrorist strike against the biggest show on earth. Every possible preventive measure seemed to be in place; the $1.2-billion Olympic security budget is over three times that of the last summer games, in Sydney, Australia, and security is being coordinated not just by Greek authorities but also by a seven-member intelligence Advisory Group that includes the U.S., Britain, France and Israel. Last month, NATO agreed to provide 24-hour AWACS surveillance. U.S. battleships will be steaming offshore. Israeli intelligence teams are consulting on the suicide bomber threat; Russian experts are advising on Chechen-style suicide attacks. Athens is supposed to be the best defended Games ever.
Then three bombs go off right behind a police station. Although the blasts didn't injure, much less kill, anybody, they hurt global confidence in all of those elaborate security measures. "Any bomb that goes off in Athens is worrying," said Bob Elphinston, secretary general of the Australian Olympic Committee. The Defense College's Bossi says, "If these [security] systems are in fact in effect, then this attack is unacceptable. It shouldn't have happened."
Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis was anxious to contain the damage. The bombings, he said, were "an isolated incident" that do "not affect whatsoever the country's preparations for the safety of the Olympics." No group has claimed responsibility for the explosions, but officials are certain they were carried out by local radicals or anarchists with no known ties to al-Qaeda or other global networks. The first bomb went off at 3:55 a.m. in a location where there were unlikely to be passersby; the anonymous bombers telephoned a warning in Greek to a local newspaper 45 minutes before. Ely Karmon, a counter-terrorism expert at the Israel-based International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism who advised Greece on its preparations, agrees that the Greek groups are "more of a nuisance than a real terror threat for the Olympics. They may cause a bit of panic [in case of an attack] but the course of the Games will not be altered."