Police raid remote village on Crete, detain 9 suspects

Hundreds of heavily armed policemen raided the mountain village of Zoniana in Crete yesterday, arresting at least nine people in the aftermath of Monday’s ambush of a police convoy in which three officers were injured. The arrests were made following a police sweep of homes and farmhouses as helicopters circled overhead. Some 400 officers were involved in an operation of unprecedented scale, including snipers on surrounding hills. The huge raid was staged two days after a group of 20 gunmen opened fire on a convoy of 14 police jeeps, thwarting a planned crackdown on drug cultivation in the area and injuring three policemen, one seriously. The condition of the 28-year-old officer hit in the neck by machine-gun fire on Monday was still critical yesterday, although he was said to have stabilized. As criticism mounted over Monday’s botched raid, with local officers admitting that «massive mistakes» had been made, a heavily reinforced police unit yesterday completed the original task. As anticipated, officers discovered several cannabis plantations, including one located directly next to the village cemetery. According to private television channel Alpha, cannabis plants had been laid out on gravestones to dry. Dismissing criticism that the large-scale operation had been staged for show, the government yesterday insisted that it was intent on curbing the lawlessness which has thrived for decades in the region. «For years there has been no real administration in this area… the village (of Zoniana) has operated outside the state,» said government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. Parliament’s transparency committee decided to probe allegations linking political figures to the criminal gangs in Zoniana following allegations by high-ranking politicians – including former party leader of ruling New Democracy Miltiadis Evert. Meanwhile, the local residents of Zoniana appeared to be divided. Many told television reporters that they were fed up with «a few families» controlling their close-knit community and that they hoped for a police crackdown. But there were reports that many villagers were unwilling to speak about their fellow residents.