BERLIN—The World Cup—a soccer tournament that every four year draws the eyes of the world like no other sporting event—begins here Friday, and the potential storm of terrorists and nutballs who might be gathering is giving security officials fits.
"If you're a jihadist or a Hitler wannabe, a communist radical or a soccer hooligan, a World Cup in Germany is like a dream come true," said Magnus Ranstorp director of terrorism research at Sweden's Defense College. "Radicals around Europe have been thinking about the possibilities for years, and for a lot of dangerous people, it must seem just like Christmas morning."
Officials are most concerned with what they know best. This is soccer, and the tradition of soccer hooliganism—angry fans who riot during and after games—is a well-documented problem.
An international group of 300 police specialists are in Germany preparing for potential troubles. The English have banned 3,500 known hooligans from leaving their country. German police have been studying databases of known hooligans throughout Europe and have stepped up border security.
Still, thousands are expected to get through.
Most worrisome are the Polish hooligans, who on Web sites have declared themselves eager to earn a place among the English and Dutch as the most violent in Europe.
"We have 10,000 known soccer hooligans in Germany, 982 of them in Berlin," said Kai Nolle, an official with the Berlin Police World Cup security force. "They've all been put on notice. Polish hooligans aren't so easy to control. They use clubs and knives."
Because the cup is in Germany, neo-Nazis see a chance to prove they're still alive and goose-stepping. Much of the concern focuses on neo-Nazis turning out in support of the Iranian national team, as a sign of their new hero worship of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's anti-Israel and Holocaust-denying president.
Deidre Berger, managing director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin who studies neo-Nazi movements, said the danger is short-term, as rioting often follows neo-Nazi gatherings, and, more frighteningly, long term: political alliances between groups sharing anti-Semitic views, violent hooligans, neo-Nazis and Muslim extremists.
"I think there's a real danger of neo-Nazis from throughout Europe coming to Germany this summer," she said. "The cameras are going to make them look more of a force than they are, and they're going to meet and form alliances. I think it's a very dangerous time."
Uwe-Karsten Heye, a former spokesman for the German chancellor, has warned "fans with a different skin color" to avoid certain parts of Brandenburg state outside Berlin, where neo-Nazis congregate.
Courts in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, have granted neo-Nazis the right to march in that city on Saturday, two days before the United States team will play there.
Then, there are concerns about al-Qaida and other Islamic jihadist organizations. To them, Germany and the World Cup represent the west they've sworn to destroy, and an event that draws not only millions of tourists but also the world's television cameras and reporters. It's been a year since last July's subway bombings, the last major terror strike in Europe.
Experts said that that attack and the attack a year earlier in Madrid were directed at major European capitols in conjunction with events attracting heavy media coverage: National elections in Spain that amounted to a referendum on the war in Iraq, and a G-8 summit made famous worldwide by music stars staging mass protest concerts.
"A World Cup is like a ready-made press conference," Ranstorp said. "All they've got to do is convince the cameras to swing away from the soccer game, and they know what that takes."
Christian Sachs, spokesman for Germany's Interior Ministry, which oversees national security planning, said security efforts had to take into consideration that "the fans are coming to enjoy the games, to have a great time."
Security around the 12 stadiums themselves will be extensive—metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs and thickets of police, including 7,000 soldiers called in for support. Germany will have AWACS security airplanes in the air for all games, and fighter jet squadrons on alert and ready to fly within two minutes. There are no estimates of the cost, except it's likely to be extraordinary.
Police also are mindful that Germany has a proven link to al-Qaida. The September 11 terrorists that struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon came from a sleeper cell in Hamburg. Police have since broken up other planned terrorist attacks, including a woman arrested last week for planning a suicide bombing in Iraq.
Security officials widely believe that sleeper cells still exist here.
Bob Ayers, an expert on terrorism at the British research center Chatham House, said the cup is a very difficult security problem. Limited resources will have to be devoted to each of the three groups presenting security problems. Beyond that, the crowds will be enormous: There are three million game tickets, and just as many fans who don't have tickets are expected to come here to soak up the atmosphere.
"The threat isn't against the stadiums and the games, it's against the fabric of society, the subway, the crowded square, and it's launched while the games are on to maximize coverage," he said.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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