LONDON: As Britain gears up for a big Olympic security exercise between May 2 and 9, Londoners are casting a cool eye at the multiple measures deemed necessary to protect the hundreds of thousands of people expected to visit Olympic venues.
While many are resigned to tougher security as just one more inconvenience in a city handicapped by overcrowded, ageing infrastructure, some have bristled, especially at a proposal to put surface-to-air missiles on civilian buildings.
In the Bow Quarter apartments overlooking the Olympic Park, proposed site for a missile battery, resident Claude Grongnet, 78, told Reuters: “I am very much against it.”
“It is sending the wrong signal,” the retired translator added, suggesting the emplacement would make the complex a target. “I don’t think it’s protecting us, when there are 700 flats.”
Her scepticism echoes a suspicion among some that the deployment of missiles in city centre locations, apart from posing an unnecessary risk to civilian lives, gives al Qaeda more respect than it deserves and dents the Olympic spirit.
“How did something that was supposed to be a joyful celebration end up becoming a joyless and fearful cross between a North Korean Party Congress and a minor war?” blogged science writer Michael Hanlon in the Daily Mail online edition.
“It is supposed to be fun ... If, at any time, surface-to-air missiles are involved, you know it cannot be fun.”
If given final approval, the plan for SAM batteries would be the first time anti-aircraft weapons have been deployed in London since the end of World War Two.
But a decision to install air defence weaponry in London would follow a precedent set by previous Olympic hosts. China deployed a battery of surface-to-air missiles a kilometre south of its showpiece venues for the Beijing games in 2008.
Greece placed dozens of US-made Patriot missiles around Athens some weeks before the 2004 Olympics, the first summer games after the September 2001 attacks on the United States.
The defence ministry said in a leaflet sent to occupants on Saturday it had chosen a former water tower in the Bow Quarter as one of several proposed sites because it offered “an excellent view of the surrounding area and the entire sky above the Olympic Park.”
At the complex, another resident, Alison Girdiefski, 49, a project manager, said there was more anger about a lack of previous communication than about the missiles themselves.
In itself, grumbling about Olympic security can be seen as a sign of how far the capital, bombed by al Qaeda in 2005, has recovered a sense of normality in the intervening seven years.
Charles Farr, director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office (interior ministry), told a conference on April 25 that crime and disorder similar to Britain’s 2011 summer riots are the most likely serious threats to the Olympics, although Islamist militants and al Qaeda offshoot groups posed a growing challenge.