NEWS

‘Traditional terrorism is probably over:’ Nasiakos

The head of the Greek police, Lt. Gen. Fotis Nasiakos, has been associated with one of the force’s greatest ever successes – last year’s multiple arrests of suspected members of the November 17 terrorist group who are now standing trial. It was also a time when the force was required to deal with a number of other major challenges and obligations – security preparations for the Olympic Games, the Greek presidency of the European Union that has just ended, the international security response to new threats and the need to take initiatives to meet public demand for a harder stance against crime. In this interview with Kathimerini, Nasiakos spoke about the November 17 operation, claiming that even without the chance event that led to the arrests – the bomb that exploded in Savvas Xeros’s hands – there still would have been developments. Could you sum up this recent period with the planning and implementation of security measures for the Greek presidency of the EU? Before I attempt to summarize this period, I would like to make a broader evaluation. After September 11, 2001, all security authorities around the world had their effectiveness put to the test regarding their ability to adapt to the new security requirements and to respond to new kinds of threats while still having to deal with existing problems concerning the public at large. Our small country faced additional factors. Greece was already preparing to host both the 2004 Olympics and the EU presidency and was facing a potential terrorist threat – and not only from November 17. This was the environment in which the Greek police force was and is operating. I am sure that its leaders and officers are fully aware of the seriousness and extent of their responsibilities. Over the past year, the Greek police has been faced with challenging situations it had never before had to deal with. I am referring to the actions that led to the rooting out of terrorism in Greece, the Greek presidency and the EU as well as the Games. As far as the EU presidency is concerned, the police had a double role to play. We had to provide an absolutely secure environment for 15 ministerial Council sessions, the Council summit and the signing of the enlargement treaty in April in Athens and then the summit in Halkidiki last month. I make particular mention of the latter in order to emphasize the special characteristics and the magnitude of the security effort, with regard to both planning and implementation. As the event was so important because of the international security environment, our geographical position and particular characteristics, we designed and implemented a new model for cooperation with the main security agencies under a single administration headed by the Greek police. We worked out a system similar to that which will be implemented during the 2004 Games. This cooperation among the armed forces, the coast guard and fire brigade functioned smoothly and in a complementary fashion, without any overlapping or gaps. All of this was achieved alongside the forces’ other activities, which is none other than the protection of the people and preparation for the Games. The police were tested in particularly important events and showed that they can guarantee the security of major events in Greece. It has been a year since November 17 was uncovered. Many are saying it is the end of domestic terrorism. Is that true? Currently, an historic trial is taking place in Korydallos Prison, where 19 Greek citizens are being tried for very serious crimes related to the totality of criminal acts committed by November 17. In that sense, the criminal activity of the group has been completely stopped. But there isn’t only November 17. During our investigations into the terrorist group ELA, we arrested and charged people implicated in its activities. But we aren’t finished yet. We are continuing our efforts at the same pace to investigate every aspect of the terrorist phenomenon in Greece. The battle to wipe out terrorism is an ongoing one. The Greek police should be, and are, on continual alert to deal with any terrorism phenomenon, whether originating at home or abroad. However, I believe that the cycle of what has been called «traditional» terrorism as we know it in Greece, but also in the rest of Europe, is probably over. What would have happened had the bomb not exploded in Savvas Xeros’s hands? Naturally, we do not underestimate the boost that that explosion gave to our investigations. But you should know that much hard work had preceded it. We had one goal – the end of terrorism. With the help of prosecutor Yiannis Diotis, many plans and various approaches were studied. We said that we had to find evidence and to act only on that basis. We established new structures within the counterterrorism unit and trained its staff in investigation methodology, using the knowledge and experience of foreign experts. We also modernized our laboratories. So we had done some very systematic work before the explosion occurred. The explosion simply facilitated matters in the sense that it speeded them up. Irrespective of that, however, there would have been developments in any case. From then on it was up to us; we had to see it through to the end. We had a great responsibility to the country and to history. All the officers in counterterrorism and in the entire force felt that way. No mistakes were made, even when complicated coordinated efforts had to be pulled together. The unfolding of the procedure was arduous, but it eventually went well, with the right directions from the political leadership, the complete cooperation of the force, particularly counterterrorism, and with God’s help. Was the whole process as simple as it seemed, at least on the outside? And what about the involvement of the foreign services? I don’t know if seemed simple, but I can tell you that it was not at all so. It was an absolutely coordinated procedure, a perfectly planned operation over almost the entire country. It was planned in such a faultless manner, with a step-by-step approach, solely where the evidence led us, nothing else. We adjusted the plan based on developments, approved or rejected operational moves, designed alternative ones, in an attempt to find the best solution on each occasion so as to leave no stone unturned. On occasion, the missed opportunities of the past came back to haunt us. The voice of [former] Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, saying, «This time, no mistakes,» was like the externalization of the desire and anxiety we all felt. The work that had gone on before – the first forensic results and the initial successful moves – gave us confidence. We saw we were on the right path and we had to see it through to the end, without pause. We couldn’t give the other side any time to recover from the initial shock and to think of any way out. It was a race against time but a challenge to our methodology, our calm, our stamina and professionalism. Officers were called back from vacation to await orders for missions that they could never have imagined possible. The head of the counterterrorism unit Major Gen. Stelios Syros tried to send some of the officers off duty from time to time to rest, but none of them would, whether out of duty, self-confidence or the feeling that it was time to rid the country of the cross it had been bearing for 27 years. I think, all of the above. The period last year, from 10.35 p.m. on the night of June 29 until about August 15, seemed like just a single day. There was no time for anything else but the goal. Foreign services were not involved in anything at the operational level. Nor could they be. However there was cooperation, particularly in the period prior to the explosion, on know-how, investigation methodology and experience. This was extremely useful and, of course, everything took place within conventional boundaries and within the framework of mutual assistance.