Director of Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) Ambassador Ioannis Corantis speaking on the threats of international terrorism and illegal immigration.
ATHENS– With international terrorism thriving, Greece should be prepared to tackle new and more potent forms of terror, exchanging intelligence information with other nations and combating illegal immigration, Greece’s Director of National Intelligence said Friday.
Ambassador Ioannis Corantis made the remarks during an unprecedented conference staged on the sidelines of Athens International 2009, an exhibition focusing on defence, security, energy and civil aviation in Southeast Europe.
“Terrorism remains the main international threat, but it is continuously evolving, with new methods of operation that require new means of response,” Mr. Corantis said. “Greece must be prepared to react [because] the magnitude of prospective attacks may increase.”
The head of Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) did not elaborate, but he underscored the growing threat of radical Islam spreading across Europe, encroaching also on the Western Balkans, including Bosnia, Albania, Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
He said there were growing trends of European-based militant jihadists returning to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq for training, while radical religious leaders in Europe and the Internet were facilitating the growing reach of religious extremism.
“The Internet has become an ideal means for spreading radical Islam,” Mr. Corantis told an audience of Greek and foreign diplomats, defence officials and politicians. “It is a cheap and undetectable tool terrorists use to disseminate their propaganda.”
With growing numbers of people fleeing Iraq, Afghanistan and the Caucasus, Mr. Corantis stressed the need for Greece to grapple with the rising tide of illegal immigration.
“We are doing everything to guarantee that those coming in are nothing more than what they claim to be: illegal refugees seeking a better life,” he said. “It’s not an easy task. But that Greece remains safe and untouched by radical forms of Islam bears proof of our hard and effective work.”
Earlier this month, the US State Department expressed concern over the “drastic increase” of illegal immigration, suggesting that Greece “could become a transit route for terrorists traveling to Europe and the United States.”
Mr. Corantis said Greece was open to exchanging intelligence information with allies but denied any existence of Al-Qaeda terror cells in the country.
“The concern may be there, but there is not a single kernel of proof, that militant Islamists have either entered the country or that Muslims residing here are turning radical.”
Last year, more than 140,000 illegal immigrants arrived in Greece, mostly via Turkey, up from 118,000 in 2007 and 96,000 in 2006.
Thousands more are said to arrive undetected.
Once caught, however, undocumented migrants are fingerprinted, held for a few days in overcrowded detention centers and then released with orders to leave the country within 30 days.
Most, though, end up in the Greek capital because Turkish officials no longer respect a bilateral agreement to return illegal refugees, according to Greek police officials.
“We need a concerted effort of cooperation among various agencies to grapple with illegal immigration,” Mr. Corantis told the conference.
Organized in cooperation with the Constantine Karamanlis Institute for Democracy, the Andreas Papandreou Institute of Strategic and Development Relations (ISTAME) and the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), the conference touched on a range of security and defence-related issues.
A keynote speaker, Deputy Defence Minister Yannis Plakiotakis underscored the need for regional cooperation in Southeast Europe.
“The Balkans are no longer the powder keg of Europe,” he said. “Still, the state of affairs in the region is fluid and volatile.”
“We believe that regional cooperation and joint action operations can afford tangible solutions to a string of problems plaguing the region; it can help countries focus on a host of issues that unite rather than separate them.”
Earlier, Louka Katseli, the shadow finance minister of the socialist opposition PASOK party, warned of the need for “qualitative government reforms” to safeguard stability, security and development in Greece.
“The need for quality government is so much more pronounced now within this period of economic turmoil,” she told the conference. “Swift and efficient government intervention is the only way out the crisis… enabling social cohesion and promoting social prosperity.”
Mrs. Katseli also called for measures to improve Greece’s competitiveness, including investments in innovative “green projects,” and restructuring of the nation’s defence industry.
“With the necessary planning, Greece’s defence industry can focus on new and select activities and markets that can guarantee financial gains and a competitive edge,” she said.
Drastic spending cuts and a new regulatory system in defence procurement projects were also required, Mrs. Katseli said, to increase spending in social security, education and investments.
Held at Athens International Airport’s Metropolitan exhibition center, Athens International comes at the height of Greece’s 2006-15 military procurement programs.
Defence spending in Greece runs at around 3 percent of GDP, one of the highest levels in the EU and NATO, partly because of a policy to keep an arms balance with neighboring Turkey.
Though both NATO allies, Greece and Turkey remain at odds over air-and-sea boundaries and flights in the Aegean Sea.
Despite longstanding differences, relations between the two countries have improved significantly in recent years, cementing strong energy links with the creation of the Greece-Turkey-Italy Interconnector, a project that entails the creation of a pipeline that will transfer natural gas from Caspian countries to Western Europe, Minister of Development Kostas Hatzidakis told the conference.
Athens International kicked off last year focusing almost exclusively on defence. It has since then come to encompass Greece’s key infrastructure industries, including energy, security and civil aviation.
The exhibition runs until Sunday