The former head of an elite police force who supervised a bungled surveillance of November 17 terrorists 11 years ago told the court trying 19 N17 defendants he was lucky to have escaped alive from the central Athens operation. «The fact that we are still alive is a miracle,» retired officer Michalis Mavrouleas said. «They could have killed us.» Acting on an informant’s tip in March 1992, 10 years before the N17 arrests, police staged a surveillance operation in Louisis Riancourt St, in Ambelokipi. N17 terrorists, who had parked a stolen van there, were in the area but slipped away without a shot being fired. Mavrouleas said he had come face-to-face with alleged N17 chief hit man Dimitris Koufodinas during the operation, prompting presiding judge Michalis Margaritis to comment: «That’s nice, it must be a pleasure for both of you to meet again.» The former officer said he had not followed the stolen van when it drove away «because I was not certain of my target… Whatever happened, I would have been in trouble.» He said the operation failed because the head of the counterterrorism squad had not been on hand to give orders.