BEIJING (Reuters) - The head of Interpol said on Friday that there is a “real possibility” that the Beijing Olympics will be targeted by terrorists or that anti-China groups could attack athletes.
China, whose Communist rulers value stability above all else, have come down hard on anyone they fear could upset the Games, from people protesting against the demolition of their houses for venues to the country’s sometimes restless ethnic minorities.
“An attempted act of terrorism is a real possibility and a real concern that all Olympic host countries have shared in recent years,” Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble told the opening of the International Conference on Security Cooperation in Beijing. “Recent Tibet-related protests have introduced significant additional complications to the normal security considerations for a major international event like these Olympics.” The international leg of the Olympic torch relay has been dogged by pro-Tibet and anti-China protests, following unrest in Tibet last month in which China says about 20 people died.
“In light of recent events, all countries whose athletes will participate and whose citizens will attend the Beijing Olympics must be prepared for the possibility that the groups and individuals responsible for the violence during the global torch relay could carry out their protests at the actual Games,” Noble, the police organization’s chief full-time official, said.
“These activities could range from disruptive behavior, like blocking major transportation routes or infrastructure or interfering with competitions, to more violent acts like assaulting Olympic officials or athletes or destroying property.
“Worse yet, we must be prepared for the possibility that al Qaeda or some other terrorist group will attempt to launch a deadly terrorist attack at these Olympics.”
China has accused Uighur militants in the far western, mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang of plotting attacks with al Qaeda’s support to help achieve their goal of establishing an independent country called East Turkistan.
Earlier this month, Chinese authorities said they had detained 45 East Turkistan “terrorist” suspects and foiled plots to carry out suicide bomb attacks and kidnap athletes at the Games. China has also accused Uighur separatists of trying to bring down a civilian airliner.
“The (terrorist) threat is compounded by the very nature of the 2008 Summer Olympics. China will open its doors to hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors and journalists and an audience of billions watching on television,” Noble said.
“This could provide easy cover for terrorists and ensure any attack during the Olympics would have an immediate global impact.”
Since last year, Interpol has been producing threat assessments for China, following up on reports of terrorist and other criminal incidents which could affect the Olympics and conducting training sessions in crisis and major event operations, he said.
An Interpol Major Event Support Team would arrive in Beijing before the Games to train Chinese officers in crisis management and major event operations, Noble added.
“We are also now working with Chinese authorities to implement a system for conducting checks of Interpol’s database of more than 14 million stolen and lost travel documents at Beijing’s airport and other major border entry points. This is absolutely crucial if we want to prevent terrorists or dangerous criminals from entering China.”
Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie