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World Cup security centre moves into high gear

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, May 18 (Reuters) A special World Cup security unit in Germany's interior ministry swung into round-the-clock action today, just over three weeks before the start of the 32-nation tournament.

Some 120 officials from German police and security agencies, world police organisation Interpol and the European Union's crime-fighting bodies Europol and Eurojust will pull together intelligence on potential threats.

''It's about the whole World Cup security picture, from hooliganism to terrorism to crime,'' an interior ministry spokesman said.

The long lead-in time before the June 9 kickoff is to make sure everything is working smoothly ''before things get serious'' and to prepare for the arrival of teams and fans, he added. Togo this week became the first team to arrive in Germany.

German officials declined to comment on a magazine report this week which said they considered at least 21 matches as facing an increased risk of terrorist attack.

But they have publicly acknowledged that both the Munich tournament opener between Germany and Costa Rica and the July 9 final in Berlin present high-value symbolic targets.

32 nations taking part, five -- the United States, England, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia -- have suffered attacks by al Qaeda or like-minded militant Islamists.

Six more -- South Korea, Italy, Poland, Australia, Japan and the Czech Republic -- have major troop contingents in Iraq, while others including Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands have soldiers in Afghanistan, another Muslim country on the frontline of the US-led war on terrorism.

German officials have held security consultations with Iran, which is also competing, about potential threats from the militant opposition People's Mujahideen, which is listed by the United States as a terrorist organisation.

The nerve centre in Berlin will produce twice-daily security updates throughout the month-long tournament and distribute them to authorities throughout Germany -- a vital coordinating function in a country where each of the 16 federal states has its own police force and intelligence service.

More than three million spectators will attend the 64 World Cup matches, spread among 12 venues across Germany.

Some 1.5 million foreign fans are expected, many of them without tickets. Officials say the biggest policing challenge will be not in the stadiums but in some 400 ''public viewing areas'' across the country where many thousands of people will gather to watch the matches on giant screens.

The interior ministry spokesman said German authorities had been in touch with officials in Switzerland and Poland after soccer fans rioted in Basel and Warsaw last weekend. Germany also saw clashes at a match in Berlin.

''The experts' judgement in all three cases is that these were 'traditional clashes' between specific rival teams, and there is no connection to the World Cup,'' he said.


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