ELA could prove a hard nut to crack

As four suspected members of the Revolutionary Popular Struggle (ELA) terrorist group, arrested over the past week, were incarcerated yesterday in the special isolation cells of Korydallos Prison’s women’s wing, judicial sources warned that the prosecution would have a much harder job with ELA than it did with the November 17 group. Nineteen November 17 suspects have been arrested since late June, when a bomb accidentally exploded in the hands of alleged group member Savvas Xeros, an Athens icon-painter. Xeros’s testimony led to the arrest of the other 18 suspects, who include one woman, beekeeper Angeliki Sotiropoulou. ELA, however, is a different case. Between Saturday and Wednesday, police in Athens arrested architect Christos Tsigaridas, 64, the group’s alleged top decision-maker, his suspected second-in-command, civil engineer Costas Agapiou, 56, ELA’s alleged bomb-maker, Kimolos Mayor Angeletos Kanas, 54, and tourist agency employee Irini Athanassaki, 48, who is accused of having written the group’s proclamations. But only Tsigaridas has confessed to group membership – the sole charge the four face – and even he has refused to give police any information on other ELA members, or on the group’s suspected links with N17 and another two so-far untouched smaller left-wing groups. A major legal stumbling block, which the ELA suspects’ defense has focused on exploiting, is that the group is understood to have ceased its activities since 1995. If that is conclusively proven, it will mean the new anti-terrorism law passed last year, which makes membership in a terrorist group a criminal offense – as opposed to a misdemeanor – cannot be applied to the ELA four. In that case, the charges must be treated as misdemeanors, and will be dropped due to the expiry of the statute of limitations. So far, police have located no active ELA hideouts – which could provide damning evidence – or weapons, and very few fingerprints, that have only been linked to two of the suspects. As a result, the charges were based on witnesses’ testimonies, mainly those of Kanas’s estranged first wife.