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Italy readying security for Turin Olympics

Italian security forces won high marks for the protection of more than 100 world leaders and the 2 million pilgrims who came to Rome after the death of Pope John Paul II.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Italian security forces won high marks for the protection of more than 100 world leaders and the 2 million pilgrims who came to Rome after the death of Pope John Paul II.

Authorities placed thousands of police on the streets, sharpshooters on rooftops and a surveillance plane in the air. Similar measures most likely will be used for the next major test -the Turin Olympics in February, when 2,500 athletes, 5,000 officials and 1 million spectators are expected.

"We have invested an enormous sum" in security, Mario Pescante, the government supervisor for the games, told The Associated Press.

He wouldn't say exactly how much, but disclosed that an additional appropriation of more than $12 million recently was earmarked for mainly extra Olympic security.

Italy raised its security alert after the July 7 suicide bombings in London's transit system, stepping up measures at airports, government buildings, embassies and monuments.

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Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government has said it is taking seriously purported Internet threats by Islamic militants who say Italy and Britain could be attacked because it has troops in Iraq. Officials stress, however, that no specific threat was made regarding the Turin Olympics.

Still the government is taking no chances. Last month, it expelled a Moroccan-born Muslim preacher from Turin, saying he represented a danger to public security.

The government toughened its anti-terrorist laws after the London bombings. A recent intelligence report said radical Muslims, mainly from Morocco and Tunisia living in Turin's Piedmont region and several others in northern Italy, posed a risk to Western interests.

Security preparations for the Athens Games last year came under constant pressure from the United States, Israel and other nations because of chronic construction delays and worries that Greek forces were not properly trained to deal with heightened threats following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Greek officials allowed NATO surveillance aircraft and foreign warships to bolster the security network, which cost a record $1.4 billion. Security at the smaller Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002 cost about $310 million, a bill that increased after Sept. 11.

With the 100-day countdown to the Feb. 10 opening ceremony approaching, U.S. Ambassador Ronald Spogli visited Turin this week and met with Olympic officials.

The U.S. government set up a security support office in Turin this year, according to a report drawn up for Congress. Officials there declined to talk to the AP.

But David Bustamante, spokesman at the U.S. Consulate in Milan, which is helping to organize the American presence in Turin, said the U.S. government has "full confidence in the ability of the government of Italy to run every aspect" of the Olympics.

Italian police officials say they have been working closely with embassies and representatives of six or seven countries, sharing intelligence information and other data. A security seminar in Rome last month drew representatives from major international sports events, including the Salt Lake City and Athens Olympics and soccer's World Cup in Germany next year.

Management of security is in the hands of the Interior Ministry and the officials who arranged security following the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2. They are assembling a force from the national police, the paramilitary Carabinieri, the customs and tax police and forest rangers.

Officials declined to give any numbers, but the security plan obtained by the AP for the pope's funeral and installation of his successor indicates how Italian authorities handle such events.

With more than 100 monarchs, heads of state and heads of government attending the funeral Mass on April 8, the government put together a force of about 10,000 police, enhanced by elite sharpshooter and bomb disposal units.

An AWACS surveillance jet patrolled the skies above Rome, deployed by NATO at the request of Italian authorities while air space within a five-mile radius of Rome was closed during the funeral.

The plan was aimed at protecting not only the VIPs but the pilgrims as well as such sensitive targets as religious and diplomatic sites.

The Interior Ministry also has expressed concern about the possibility of violence from homegrown anarchists and anti-globalization protesters. Violent demonstrations at a G-8 summit in Genoa in 2001 led to the death of a protester, shot by a Carabinieri after a demonstrator hurled a fire extinguisher at his jeep.

An anti-terrorism drill in Rome this past week was delayed because of a demonstration by anti-globalization protesters, who said removing Italian troops from Iraq would end the risk of attack.

AP sports writer Andrew Dampf in Rome contributed to this report.