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Officials prepare for security threats | TribLIVE.com
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Officials prepare for security threats

The Associated Press
| Sunday, June 4, 2006 12:00 p.m

DUESSELDORF, Germany — When more than a million World Cup fans begin zigzagging around Germany’s 12 host cities this month, security officials will have two threats to worry about: hooliganism and terrorism.

Of the two, officials think violent fans are the more certain problem.

While most European hooligans missed the 2002 World Cup because it was in faraway South Korea and Japan, cities such as Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt are a short hop for veteran troublemakers.

Hooligans from Eastern European countries such as Poland or Ukraine may pose the greatest threat, in part because they have so far eluded the careful intelligence gathering by police in Britain and Germany, said Gunter A. Pilz, a violence researcher and sports sociologist at the University of Hanover.

“It’s not like in Germany or England where the hooligans are well known,” he said. “The police are not so well-informed, so you can’t be sure about stopping them.”

Germany intends to counter that by setting up border checkpoints, usually not used for people entering from other EU countries but available for security purposes.

Terrorism remains the more distant — if more frightening — worry during the tournament, which begins Friday and concludes with the final in Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Stadium on July 9. The fear of terror looms in great part because of the worldwide media exposure.

As they did for the 2004 Athens Olympics, AWACS early warning planes from NATO will be patrolling Germany’s skies, and soldiers will be standing by with equipment that can detect radiation or chemical weapons.

German police and security officials have said no concrete threats of terror have been found, but that hasn’t stopped precautions such as drills to evacuate crowds at World Cup stadiums.

“I am absolutely convinced that everything possible has been done and is being done,” EU counterterrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries told The Associated Press in Brussels, Belgium. “Germany is in the lead with providing security and there is strong international cooperation to help the German government.”

Director of stadium security for FIFA Walter Gagg downplayed the terror threat during a recent conference on World Cup security.

“Soccer has never — really never — been the target sought out by terrorist attacks at this level. We are convinced we won’t have any terrorist actions against the soccer World Cup,” he said.

Iranian officials have told German organizers they are afraid their team could be targeted by terrorists opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The three other teams causing the most security concerns are Saudi Arabia — also afraid of anti-government groups — and the United States and England, because of their alliance during the Iraq war.

“I have great hope the World Cup will go off without harm,” said Deputy Interior Minister August Hanning. “We can’t rule out surprises, but we have taken every precaution.”

Earlier this month, Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security, said he had “every reason to believe” Germany was taking “prudent measures” ahead of the tournament, adding that the United States would provide technical assistance, if needed.

Ticketholders will undergo strict identity checks, meaning people deemed a terror threat or who have a hooligan past will have difficulty getting into stadiums.

A big concern, however, is the large number of people arriving without tickets just to soak up the soccer atmosphere by watching on large screens in stadiums and amphitheaters. Hundreds of thousands of viewers are expected to watch the televised matches outdoors — along the Main River in Frankfurt and on Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, among others.

At Euro 2000, co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands, 945 Britons were arrested for soccer violence. The most severe rioting was in Charleroi and Brussels; that led to UEFA threatening England with expulsion from the tournament.

At the 1998 World Cup, hosted by France, German hooligans beat a French policeman nearly to death, while England fans rioted in Marseille. And at the 1988 European Championship in Germany, Dutch, German and English fans tangled in fierce melees.

Police have pledged to take a hard line on security during the monthlong event.

Officers will be friendly and open, but also show “zero tolerance for disturbances,” said Juergen Bischoff, who is leading the federal police force’s World Cup preparations.

Federal police are responsible for security at the borders, railways and airports. The force also will have a mobile reserve unit for the tournament, ready to travel anywhere in the country on short notice.

The federal police also will receive foreign reinforcements — about 500 officers from 13 countries, including Britain and Poland, are expected in Germany. They won’t carry guns, but will have the power to arrest people.

Several officials at a two-day security conference of experts from the 32 countries playing in soccer’s showcase event praised Germany’s preparations.

The number of German police involved is unknown because the nine states with World Cup stadiums coordinate their own security and they haven’t released exact numbers. About 7,000 soldiers will provide support, but are forbidden from taking on police roles under the country’s constitution.

Germany’s Interior Ministry has asked each state to set up video surveillance, check backpacks and fence off the areas adjacent to the stadiums.

“I had the impression they were very well prepared and have covered every threat imaginable,” said Min Jang of the terrorism office of South Korea.

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