NEWS

A year on, some remaining gaps in the Nov17 story

Last Sunday marked exactly one year since the beginning of the end for the November 17 terrorist organization, the longest-surviving organization of its kind in Europe and one of the most longstanding in the world. The premature explosion of a homemade bomb in the port of Piraeus at 10.25 p.m. on June 29, 2002 ended a violent cycle that had begun 27 years earlier, on December 23, 1975, with the murder of Athens CIA station chief Richard Welch. It was a cycle of violence, bloodshed and murders on the part of the organizations’ members, and a parallel cycle of mistakes, erroneous assessments, probable fear and often amateurism on the part of the authorities. The explosion of the bomb in the hands of Savvas Xeros a year ago was the statistically unavoidable mistake that was, sooner or later, bound to happen. November 17 had made mistakes in the past but the authorities had been unable to take advantage of them because, as it emerged later, they had been caught up in a myth and unable to see reality. Unanswered questions A year later, the trial of 19 people arrested and charged in connection with the organization is in progress. Halfway through the hearing, it is probably too early to render a precise account of what has happened. But a preliminary evaluation is possible, a documentation of what is known and of certain questions that still remain unanswered. Sources of information: Shortly before the bomb exploded in Piraeus, rumors were rife that developments were expected on the terrorism front. Shunning excessive optimism, the authorities let it be known that they at least had a much better idea about the people and events than they had in the past. And by carefully channeling information to the media, they tried to «move the tree» as a Greek police official who now holds senior rank described it, in other words to show what they knew, anticipating that the reaction this would cause could provide them with the evidence on which they could make a case and bring charges. But how did they arrive at the point of knowing what they did? This question remains unanswered, except for the certainty that some of the people who participated in the 1970s in the fermentation that led to the genesis of home-grown terrorism had agreed to speak. The myth of the «historic leadership»: The theorizing that went on for years about November 17 used to employ the term «historic leadership.» Though never strictly defined, the expression referred to a kind of council which developed the theory behind the organization’s activities, an instrument for making decisions and collecting information. The authorities insist that there was no such group in November 17, and that it has answered the question concerning the first generation of the organization, the founding group, which acted as a team of executioners in its early years of operation. As for collecting information, the police insist that there is no secret, that the information came from open sources. Seeking ‘Anna’ The identity of one person who is believed to belong to the first generation has not been discovered. This is a woman code-named Anna, who, according to eyewitnesses, participated in the first attacks made by the organization. The leaders of the investigation seem to have narrowed their search down to three women who might be Anna and, pointing out that the investigation is still continuing, say they believe that she will eventually be arrested. The gaps in the career of November 17: Based on preliminary depositions by the accused, a picture has emerged of more attacks by the organization. The biggest gap concerns the murder in 1983 of George Tsantes and his driver Nikos Veloutsos, which has not yet been mentioned by any of the accused. Another major chapter in the workings of November 17, which was uncovered after the organization began to be broken, concerns the robberies committed by its members. These robberies funded the organization, with some members receiving a regular wage as a kind of reimbursement for their participation. The total amount brought in by robberies is in excess of 1 billion drachmas (2.9 million euros) and no bank account or safe-deposit box has yet been been found to contain any of that money. It is believed that most of the money has been spent. The haul from the most recent robbery – from a delivery by the telecommunications provider OTE in April 2002 – must have been kept in the hideout on Damareos Street and been removed from there immediately after the bomb Xeros was carrying exploded. Weapons Most of the weapons used or stolen by November 17 were found in the hideouts on Patmou and Damareos streets in Athens. The police seized guns, explosives, rockets, detonators and homemade mechanisms. What was not found? The so-called historic 45, the gun with which the organization began operating. Nor were the three 38s found, the guns that the ballistics experts say November 17 used from time to time. Also missing is the stamp with the organization’s symbol, which was used to stamp proclamations in the early days and was later replaced by a silk-screen print. A significant item that is also missing is the hard disk from the computer found in the Damareos hideout. Some disks found there revealed information about the tailing of targets in Thessaloniki where it is believed the organization had intended to extend its operations. And the first typewriter that the organization used to type their proclamations on has not been found. Other organizations: The theory of interconnecting containers, a term used to refer to close relations among local terrorist organizations, seems to have been confirmed by recent discoveries. The process of dismantling November 17 provided the authorities with important evidence about the other organizations and with answers to questions that go back many years. The arrests of individuals charged with participation in the group known as Revolutionary Popular Struggle (ELA) were in the nature of an historic mopping up, as the organization had shrunk considerably, to the point of being inactive. In fact, it stopped operating in 1995. The May 1 and Revolutionary Nuclei organizations are still being investigated by the police, who miss no opportunity to point out that they will persist in their task until domestic terrorism has been completely stamped out.