Japan calls up military jets to guard footballers

Co-hosts protect English and US teams with surface-to-air missiles and planes amid fear of terrorist strikes by al-Qa'ida
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With two days left until the World Cup opens, attention in Korea and Japan is shifting away from the danger of hooligans to focus on the much deadlier threat of international terrorism.

With two days left until the World Cup opens, attention in Korea and Japan is shifting away from the danger of hooligans to focus on the much deadlier threat of international terrorism.

Football grounds in South Korea are being provided with the kind of protection usually reserved for military bases, with surface-to-air missiles and equipment to detect biochemical weapons installed at several stadiums. Both host countries are mobilising fighter aircraft to patrol the skies during matches.

Despite fears among locals of fan violence, police in Japan say privately that they are more concerned with the danger of attacks on the England and United States football teams by al-Qa'ida terrorists.

"Terrorism is the biggest concern," a senior Japanese police officer told The Independent, "and England are one of the obvious potential targets. We're paying a lot of attention to the security of aeroplanes and taking precautions against biological and chemical terrorism."

Unprecedented security surrounds Awaji island, where England are training. Officials refuse to give details of the precise precautions they are taking in case that will diminish their effectiveness. But they include armed police and coastguards on land, in the sea and in the air.

From their camp in the town of Tsuna, England have a choice of two local airports and are likely to alternate between them in an attempt to confuse potential terrorists. The seaside training ground is surrounded by high fences, and at least 80 police and private security guards patrol it around the clock. Similar precautions are in place at the Westin Awaji Island hotel where the players and their entourage are staying.

Police in South Korea gave a glimpse of the anti-terrorist resources being deployed when the American team landed at Inchon airport, Seoul, on Friday. Inside the airport itself, the players walked down a corridor of several hundred armed police to a bus, which was escorted into the city by a convoy of patrol cars, motorcycle outriders and a van containing an eight-man Swat team. Three police helicopters flew overhead.

In both countries, airspace two miles around the stadiums will be restricted for several hours before and after games. Plain-clothes officers will travel on domestic flights and Japanese police will be co-ordinating operations with radar-carrying Awacs (airborne warning and control system aircraft) of the air force.

In South Korea, the police say they are "keeping an eye" on 2,965 foreign residents from Middle Eastern countries on America's list of states alleged to sponsor terrorism.

Armed riot squads will take over security at half of Japan's 34 nuclear power stations, in case of attacks there. A senior official of the National Police Agency said he also feared the possibility of cyber-terrorism, directed against the sophisticated computers that co-ordinate security, video-monitoring and fire sprinkler systems at Japan's new World Cup stadiums.

The task is made all the harder by Japan's inexperience in dealing with terrorism. Since the demise of student radical groups, who hijacked planes and took hostages in the Seventies, Japan has had only one serious act of terrorism, the attack on the Tokyo subway by the religious cult Aum Shinri Kyo in 1995, which killed 12 people with home-made sarin nerve gas.

Most Japanese lack the sensitivity to suspicious packages and individuals common among people in British cities. Japan's bureaucracy-laden authorities have a notoriously bad record of crisis management. When a hoax bomb threat was made against the offices of a large bank in central Tokyo, a few days after the 11 September terrorist attacks, the warning was not relayed until after the fictitious bomb was supposed to have gone off. The operators who took the call had no training in dealing with such emergencies, and simply did not know whom they should inform.