US unsure N17 gone, may rebuff Greek terror list demands

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States said yesterday that it could not confirm that the Greek extremist group November 17 had been entirely shut down and was therefore unlikely to agree to a request from Athens to remove it from the US terrorism blacklist. The State Department said a group designated a «foreign terrorist organization» must be completely silent for two years before being removed from the list regardless of action being taken against it. «We need to know for sure that they’ve ceased their activity and it’s generally a period of about two years that we look for,» spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters. Earlier yesterday, the Greek Foreign Ministry said it would ask the United States to change its recently published list of international terrorist organizations to remove November 17, which Athens says has been smashed. Foreign Minister George Papandreou has ordered Greece’s ambassador in the United States to «ask for this list to be corrected so that it corresponds to reality,» the ministry said. The request followed Washington’s redesignation last week of 25 militant groups as «foreign terrorist organizations» – including November 17 – extending for two years travel and financial sanctions on them. November 17, believed to have been founded in 1975 and named after a student uprising against Greece’s junta, evaded security forces for more than a quarter of a century. Nineteen suspected members of the November 17 organization, blamed for the assassinations of 23 Greek and foreign dignitaries since 1975, have been arrested since the middle of 2002. But it was only last year that Greek authorities, under pressure to improve security ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, captured their first suspects. Several presumed members of the group have been on trial since March. Boucher could not say if US officials had received the Greek request, but insisted that the redesignation of November 17 was not a reflection of unhappiness with Greece’s counterterrorism efforts. He pointed to comments he made last week when a Greek reporter posed questions about the redesignation at his daily news briefing. «Certainly, we believe that Greece has great strides against that organization,» Boucher said on Friday. «The effort that the police and authorities in Greece have made have been very effective in reducing the capabilities of the (group’s) reorganization.» «I think our people just at this moment felt that we couldn’t guarantee that they were completely out of business,» he said.

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