NEWS

The hour of truth is near for November 17

Investigations into terrorist activity in Greece have been in progress for a long time and have resulted in a wealth of data. However, for several reasons, the right conclusions have never been properly drawn – either because the quality of the evidence was suspect or because the political officials’ handling of the issue was somewhat prejudiced. Above all, the information acquired has remained purely within the format of a police case file; no links have ever been made to the political origins of the phenomenon. Over the past year, in the wake of the murder of British defense attache Brigadier Stephen Saunders which led to the involvement of the British authorities, things have changed. British persistence, an understanding of the weaknesses of the Greek attempts, along with American cooperation have put the investigation on a completely different footing. The separate pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, which have been found over years of unsuccessful inquiries, are beginning to fall into place. A special computer program has now begun to order, group and link this data and to compile a long list of about 500 unanswered questions. There is now a system to the investigation and the questions have begun to elicit answers. The basis of the investigation is considered to be the route taken by November 17’s first proclamation to Serge July, the director of the French newspaper Liberation via the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, the failed attack on the AEG building in which Christos Kassimis was killed and a package found on Mt Parnitha after his death, which contained weapons, encoded telephone numbers, proclamations and other material providing crucial information about relations between the two main organizations, the People’s Revolutionary Struggle (ELA) and November 17. Also considered crucial are the ambush in the Athens district of Gyzi in the mid-1980s in which Christos Tsoutsouvis was killed, the incident in Louzis Riancour Street and the tip-offs from a mystery woman, a change in tactics toward killing people involved in major financial deals, and the traces of blood found at the site where a rocket was launched at the home of the German ambassador in Athens in May 2000. Anti-junta struggle All of the above, plus information gleaned from all the various attacks, have been cross-referenced and have contributed to the effort to solve the mystery of Greek terrorism. It is a process that has led politicians and police to arrive at certain basic conclusions. It appears that the roots of terrorism in Greece go back a long way. All the evidence points to the theory that it began during the military dictatorship of 1967-74. That dark period of postwar Greece, characterized by oppression, arrests and torture, was a time when young people were inspired by the message in France of May,1968; Che Guevara was the subject of hero worship; they watched with bated breath the airplane hijackings by the Palestinian woman Leila, absorbed the political texts of Italy’s Red Brigade and Germany’s Red Army Faction, and were thirsty for political and anti-junta action. It was then that the idea of forming armed resistance groups emerged. Therefore, shortly before 1973, when anti-dictatorship organizations were springing up like mushrooms, it appears that the foundations were laid for the terrorism that has continued without interruption since March 1975. Influences Some of the anti-dictatorship organizations, with members and links in Greece but chiefly based abroad, were imbued with the revolutionary fervor of the time and were directly influenced by events in France as well as a study of the Algerian revolution and armed Palestinian struggle. Revolutionary organizations, mostly based abroad, chiefly in France and which did not restrict their struggle to overthrowing the junta but looked forward to an armed socialist revolution, appear not to have been active in Greece during the dictatorship. According to one hypothesis, the student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic in November 1973 caught them by surprise; according to another, they underestimated the events of that time. It appears that their absence from the student uprising determined the stance of some members of these groups after the colonels’ regime fell. It does seem certain that the terrorist organizations themselves were set up after the dictatorship fell. Members of anti-dictatorship groups appear to have been faced with the dilemma of whether to continue revolutionary action or to join the political parties being formed after the end of the dictatorship. The dilemma was not easily resolved. According to the security authorities, there were meetings and debates in both Athens and Paris. Most of the members of those revolutionary, anti-dictatorship groups abandoned the idea of continuing revolutionary struggle and entered the country’s political life. Some of them, however, appear to have retained these ideas and that is how terrorism must have begun in Greece. It was from the remnants of these groups that ELA and November 17 emerged. The first act, a bomb attack, was made by ELA in March 1975. It was followed on December 23 of the same year by the murder of US diplomat Richard Welch by November 17. At one time, the two groups were in communication with each other and may have been operating together. Later on, other groups such as the Anti-State Struggle and May 1 made an appearance, but were of shorter duration and more limited action. ELA, more of a mass organization than November 17, halted operations in 1995. November 17, a more closed group, is still active, although it has restricted the frequency of its attacks. Evidence indicates that ELA had broader international links and members who were probably connected to the notorious terrorist «Carlos the Jackal» (now imprisoned in France). According to reports in the records of the former East German secret service Stasi, ELA provided support for the attacks on the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Athens and a pub in Glyfada. Both organizations have over the years gone through periods of ideological and internal conflict and a number of identity crises. On several occasions, as the years passed, bringing their own pressures to bear, central figures are thought to have sought a way out. However, the «blood» bonds which unite the members of these groups have not allowed anyone to leave. Perhaps today, weighed down by the burden of their actions, they would like to get out but are prevented from doing so because of the consequences of that terrible bond of common guilt. According to police, over 500 people have been involved, in one way or another, in terrorist attacks since 1975. Of this number, only a few are still active today. Police describe a heterogeneous group that includes common criminals and fringe elements as well as intellectuals and people prominent in the business world. The head of November 17, the person who gives the orders and is the author of the proclamations issued after each attack, is thought to be a person who has lived abroad, and who has had revolutionary training as well as what is generally perceived as a good education. What the authorities believe The police believe that this person has taken part in murders. They have also arrived at the conclusion that November 17’s members do not communicate by telephone but use simpler methods of contacting each other; they believe the group has storerooms and a rudimentary laboratory as well as contacts with the broader revolutionary left. According to reliable sources, the Public Order Ministry has made so much progress that it believes the terrorists are now surrounded. Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis is not in a hurry, however. He does not want to be drawn into making the kind of mistakes that have been made in the past, and will not give in to hysterical pressure to make arrests here and how. He is trying to link individuals with specific terrorist acts and is insisting on putting political pressure on November 17 by broadcasting loud and clear that terrorism’s days are over. The minister himself realizes that the revelations will put Greece’s political system to shame, as it will show up the State’s inability to act, and that the myth was much more powerful than the reality. Whatever the outcome, 2002 is likely to prove a turning point for terrorism in Greece and perhaps the only opportunity for the 50-something proponents of blind violence to bury their 45 revolvers forever, and to cover their tracks in the process.