When the London Olympics begin, spectators and television viewers captivated by the feats of the world’s finest athletes won’t be the only ones holding their collective breath. After a build-up dominated by concerns over security, the British government, the Games organizers, and the security services will be hoping the event passes off without incident. While plans are in place to deal with everything from anti-capitalist protests to cyber-crime, the biggest threat is, of course, a terror attack.
In terms of symbolism, the London Games is arguably the most attractive target to present itself to Islamist terrorists since 9/11 and the onset of the War on Terror, being the first global sporting event since then to be held in the capital city of one of the nations deemed to be waging war on the Muslim world. While the 2002 Winter Games were held at Salt Lake City in Utah, that venue did not hold the same cache for al-Qaeda and its affiliates as New York or Washington.
And London is certainly vulnerable, as the 7/7 bus and subway bombings of 2005 showed. Salt Lake City was a relatively isolated venue in comparison and more easily secured, even before America was placed on its highest state of alert. Prospective Arab or Asian terrorists would have found it difficult to keep a low profile in a relatively small city in the western United States populated largely by Mormons and winter-sports enthusiasts. By contrast, Britain’s teeming, multicultural capital has long been home to the ethnic minority communities from which all manner of terrorist groups have drawn their support and their foot soldiers; not for nothing has the city been referred to as “Londonistan.”
As if Britain’s status among jihadists as a “minor” Satan wasn’t lure enough, the presence of Israeli athletes provides an obvious target for both al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed groups such as Hezbollah — since the massacre at the 1972 Munich Games, they have supplanted the Palestine Liberation Organization as the greatest threat to Jewish interests worldwide. Israel has accused Hezbollah of being behind last week’s bus bombing in Bulgaria, and reports in the British press have claimed that Mossad agents are hunting for terrorists planning an attack to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Munich. (The International Olympic Committee, meanwhile, has shamefully refused to hold a minute’s silence for the 11 Israelis murdered at Munich.)