Terror Strike Will Raise Athens Olympic Fears

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The Olympic Games have long been a favorite target of terrorists, from Munich in 1972 to Atlanta in 1996. And Thursday's assassination of a British diplomat in Athens is a reminder that the city's 2004 Olympiad may be an explosion waiting to happen. The leftist group November 17 claimed responsibility for the drive-by shooting of British military attache Brigadier Stephen Saunders, as a protest against his alleged role in NATO's bombing of Serbia last year. And as if to taunt the authorities for their failure to capture a single member of a group that has been active since the '70s, ballistic tests revealed that the shooter used the exact same .45-caliber pistol the group had used in four previous killings over the past 20 years. The group has killed some 21 people since its emergence in 1975, and no member has ever been captured or even identified. "Greece has been very lax on terrorist groups, and for a long time was a jumping-off point for a number of Palestinian terror attacks," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Unless they're seen to be taking effective steps in response to this attack, that may raise questions about plans to hold the Olympics there."

Despite its membership in NATO, Greece has a long-standing tradition of leftist anti-American sentiment; President Clinton last year was forced to curtail a visit to Athens in the face of widespread protests against everything from the Kosovo campaign to Washington's support for the military dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967 until 1975. The Kosovo conflict sparked an even more widespread hostility to the U.S., with historic religious and political ties between Greeks and Serbs — and a deep-seated animosity toward the Turks — making Athens the NATO member most reluctant to support the campaign. "The fact that they focused on a British official may be a sign that U.S. personnel are now taking a lot more precautions, while Saunders may have been an easier hit," says Dowell. "But it also suggests that if they can't hit at senior personnel, this group is prepared to hit at people further down the chain — and that could be major cause for concern at the Olympics."