After 27 years in which terrorist groups have operated with impunity in Greece, the political and security conditions are becoming more conducive to the groups’ eradication, official sources in the Public Order Ministry say. In the last year and a half, after November 17’s murder of the British defense attache, Brig. Stephen Saunders, things have changed both at the level of the police investigation and politically, as was stressed during Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s visit to the United States last week. The persistence of British investigators assisting the Greek police, their understanding of their Greek colleagues’ weaknesses, the way in which the British forged a link between Greek and US investigators, and the intense pressure brought upon Greece’s political leadership by the events of September 11 put the investigations onto a completely different plane. The parts of the puzzle from the many years of investigations are being put together, the areas which are being investigated have been specified and Public Order Ministry sources can now claim that the first stage that may be reached is to make November 17 freeze up and the second is to discover its members. Security personnel and the ministry’s leadership have come to believe that November 17 and the Revolutionary People’s Struggle (ELA) were born from the groups opposed to the 1967-74 military dictatorship who sought armed socialist revolution. After the junta’s fall, these organizations disbanded, but some of their nuclei retained the idea of revolutionary violence, leading to the formation and appearance first of ELA (in May 1975) and then November 17 (on December 23, 1975). From 1975 to today, police believe that ELA (which stopped in 1995), November 17 and numerous other shorter-lived groups have involved about 500 people, of whom only a small number is still active today. Police believe that these individuals include common criminals, outcasts, and ideologues but also successful and well-to-do professionals. They believe November 17’s mastermind has lived abroad and had a middle-class education. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas yesterday responded to a spate of reports indicating that the time of reckoning for members of November 17 was approaching by saying: «The government is working seriously and systematically to deal with terrorism. The stories that are developing do not help this effort. The government does not herald arrests before they are made and operates only within the context of a just state and our laws.» Simitis has repeatedly stressed that his government was serious in its pursuit of November 17. This follows repeated claims made in US news media, usually by former US diplomats or security officials, that Greece is soft on terrorism or that members of the ruling PASOK party may have links with the terrorists or be sympathetic toward them. Meanwhile, the 20-year statute of limitations means that November 17’s operatives cannot be tried for the first four murders that they claimed, a «senior prosecutorial functionary» told Saturday’s Ta Nea newspaper. The victims were CIA station chief Richard Welch (December 23, 1975), former police officer Evangelos Mallios (December 14, 1976), police officer Pandelis Petrou and his driver Sotiris Stamoulis (January 16, 1980). The group has killed another 18 people since.