SYDNEY — Five people linked to extremist groups in the Middle East, Europe and Asia have been deported from Australia in a nationwide security sweep ahead of the Sydney Olympic Games in September, a major newspaper reported on Monday.
‘Counter terrorism sources say the past year has seen a sharp rise in the number of people with suspected terrorist links found in Australia and they fear it could threaten the Sydney Olympics,’ the Daily Telegraph said.
The newspaper said a total of five illegal immigrants with links to Osama Bin Laden — accused by the United States of involvement in attacks on American embassies in Africa — Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group, Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers and an unnamed central European group, were deported in the past year.
A sixth person, under investigation by intelligence agencies, was caught boarding an Australian-bound cargo ship off the remote Galapagos Islands in the South Pacific. Government officials refused to either confirm or deny the report when contacted by Reuters. But authoritative sources confirmed a nationwide security sweep was in progress ahead of the September 15 to October 1 Games.
Australian security officials on Monday sought to reassure visiting foreign dignitaries and athletes that the Sydney Olympics would be safe.
‘In international terms, Australia faces a low overall level of security threat,’ said Attorney General Daryl Williams in opening an international conference on athlete and dignitary protection.
The 50 Australian and international delegates to the security conference are being given a tour of Olympic sites along with their overall briefing.
‘We have been relatively free of acts of espionage, foreign interference, terrorism and other political violence … However, just because we are a lucky country does not mean we are complacent about matters of national security,’ Williams said.
‘Of course there can be no absolute guarantees when talking about security,’ said Williams, Australia’s top lawmaker.
The Sydney Olympic Games security chief warned such a huge international event as the Games was always vulnerable.
‘We’ve done the best we can and it’s the best that anyone in the world can provide,’ said New South Wales state police Commissioner Peter Ryan, a former London police chief.
‘We have planned for just about every contingency we can possibly think of, but there’s no guarantees when it comes to international terrorism or … maybe a domestic individual wanting to making a point,’ Ryan told a news conference.
Fears of a possible terrorist threat to the Sydney Games were raised in May when police arrested a man whose home near Sydney’s Olympic Village was packed with explosives, some similar to those used in the anti-government Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Ryan said the absence of many heads of state, such as US President Bill Clinton, had made Games security a little easier.
‘It’s good news for us. We won’t have to heighten security around such people because they do demand an enormously high level of security,’ he said.
Williams said the exact number of VIPs to be protected would probably not be known until the Games were under way, but warned foreign security forces not to bring arms into Australia as part of their Games security.
‘Foreign security officials have no operational role in Australia and they are not authorised or permitted to carry weapons of any type,’ he said. ‘If visiting security personnel carry a weapon the matter will be treated seriously and pursued with the government concerned at the highest level.’
Australian media reported last week that as many as 12 nations had asked for exemption from gun laws or expressed concern about security during the Sydney Games.
Ryan said Olympic security officials had liaised with nations regarded to be at a higher risk, such as Israel, and that special security measures would cover Israeli athletes and officials.
Eleven Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian extremists at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.