Crete drug raid backfires

Three policemen were injured yesterday, one seriously, during an attempted raid on suspected drug dealers in a mountain village in Crete. Special police units were sent to the island to assist in the search for some 20 assailants who raked officers with machine-gun fire yesterday morning as they tried to approach the village of Zoniana, in the prefecture of Rethymnon, the location of some of the island’s numerous cannabis plantations. A convoy of jeeps carrying some 40 officers was ambushed a short distance from the village, where police had been planning to search a home in connection with a drugs investigation. The gunmen who opened fire on the convoy hit three officers, including Efstathios Lazaridis, 25, who sustained serious neck injuries. Following surgery last night, he was in «extremely critical condition,» doctors said. The other two injured officers were out of danger. A 75-strong unit of specially trained officers has been sent to the island to help local police comb the area. Greek Police Chief Anastassios Dimoschakis, who arrived on the island to coordinate operations and visit the injured officers in hospital, described the attack as «unprecedented for Greek standards.» But police in Rethymnon expressed a different opinion. «This happens whenever we visit that region – the only difference this time is that a colleague was seriously injured,» said the head of the union of Rethymnon police officers, Yiannis Koundourakis. Yesterday’s raid followed the arrest of a Zoniana resident last Friday near the island’s capital of Iraklion. Officers were yesterday seeking a second suspect who had eluded arrest on Friday. The greater area of Mylopotamos has been the site of similar shootouts in the past. Last year another police operation in the region was also greeted by heavy fire from Kalashnikov-toting assailants. In 2005, a police helicopter scouring the area was fired upon. Supreme Court prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas yesterday ordered an investigation to identify the perpetrators of the attack, believed to be members of a large organized crime gang.