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|August 26, 2000||
Taskforce Gold is Sydney answer to Games threatsBrian Williams in Sydney
During a visit to the United States several months ago Australia's Olympic Games minister Michael Knight vowed Americans would be safer in Sydney than back home.
They were bold words and may yet come back to haunt him.
But a report on Saturday from New Zealand about a possible plot by Afghan refugees to blow up Australia's nuclear research reactor just 25 kms (16 miles) from the main Olympic stadium is not likely to cause the minister lost sleep.
The reactor scenario has always been high on Australian security forces "hit list" of possible terrorist targets, as has involvement of fundamentalist Afghan extremists in any attack.
World intelligence agencies have cooperated as never before in preparing for the Sept 15 to Oct 1 Sydney Games, the biggest international gathering of the new millennium, because there is no choicer target for a terrorist.
"There is no event in the world which is more high profile than an Olympics," a security source said. "The propaganda value of an attack is enormous. We know that. They know that."
In the deadly cat-and-mouse game between intelligence agencies and terrorists, security forces could even go as far as leaking their knowledge of a possible plot to warn off an attack, sources said.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has identified more than 100 possible scenarios for terrorist attacks during the Games, including hostage taking.
Terrorists hijacking an airliner and crashing it into the 100,000-seat main Olympic Stadium, along with the reactor attack, is on the high priority "nightmare list."
But police and the ADF believe the overall risk of any serious threat, including attacks by either chemical or biological weapons, is low.
Police, the ADF and intelligence agencies, both at home and abroad, have been working for up to four years to set up a wide-ranging security operation which has been code-named Joint Task Force Gold.
Under Joint Task Force Gold, 1,000 personnel from 12 agencies will be led by the ADF and police. Units in the operation include elite Special Services commandos, navy divers and a Black Hawk helicopter squadron.
Separately, 11,500 security personnel, including 4,500 police and 3,500 fire and emergency services personnel will patrol Games venues.
They also include a strike force charged with investigating serious threats or incidents targeting the Games, a bomb detection unit with sniffer dogs, as well as specific security units for dignitaries and athletes.
Potential, though unlikely, threats have been said to come from Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden, suspected by the United States of masterminding the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed more than 220 people.
More possible is a rogue act by a loner with a grudge, similar to the Olympic Centennial Park bombing during the 1996 Atlanta Games that killed one woman.
Fears of a repeat at the 2000 Games rose in May when police arrested a man whose home near Sydney's Olympic village was found packed with explosive materials. Some of the materials were similar to those used in a 1995 anti-government bombing in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.
Authoritative sources said late in July that a nationwide security sweep was in progress ahead of the Games.
An unconfirmed media report said five people with links to bin Laden, Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, and an unnamed central European group had been deported from Australia in the past year.
Australian media have reported that FBI agents have been in Australia for months to investigate potential threats to the Sydney Games.
Police Commander Paul McKinnon, head of the Olympic Security Command Centre, boasted at the launch of an Olympic security trial run in May that his force was ready for any contingency.
"We have the whole field of possibilities covered...a range of scenarios that test our tactical capabilities with respect to bomb responses and more sophisticated types of threats involving weapons of mass destruction," McKinnon said.
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