NEWS

Terror link probed in police attack

Five people were remanded in custody yesterday accused of illegally possessing weapons after a massive police operation in the Athens neighborhood where a 21-year-old police officer was shot and seriously wounded on Monday. The policeman, Diamantis Mantzounis, remained in a critical condition at the Red Cross Hospital yesterday after being shot twice, as dozens of officers protested outside. The five suspects, who are not necessarily being linked to Monday’s attack, were taken in for questioning after a handgun was found in a cafe in Exarchia and gas canisters and gas masks were found in some homes during a door-to-door search by police in the area. All five are due to appear before a prosecutor today. It is not clear if they were among 72 people who were taken in for questioning in the hours following the early morning attack on Mantzounis and two fellow officers who were not hurt in the attack. By last night, no group had claimed responsibility for the shooting but authorities continued to base their investigation on the theory that it was carried out by members of the extremist organization Revolutionary Struggle. The group began its actions, which include attacks on ministries, police and the firing of a rocket-propelled grenade at the US Embassy in January 2007, following the capture of members of the notorious terrorist group November 17 in 2002. Ballistic tests revealed that four of the more than 30 bullet casings recovered from the scene of the shooting, at the rear of the Culture Ministry on the corner of Zaimi and Kountourioti streets, came from an MP5 9 mm submachine gun that was used in an attack on a police station in the Athens suburb of Nea Ionia on April 30, 2007. Revolutionary Struggle later claimed responsibility for that attack. The weapon was stolen from a policeman guarding the Glyfada home of Romilos Kedikoglou, then Supreme Court president, two weeks before the attack on the police station. Ballistic tests on 27 other casings found at the scene of the shooting showed that the bullets had been fired from one of the two Kalashnikov assault rifles that had been used to fire on a police bus in Goudi two weeks ago. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called Monday’s shooting an attack on «democracy and society as a whole.» One of the two policemen who escaped unscathed said that he saw two men approach the officers and then take aim with their weapons. He shouted a warning to his colleagues but although he and the other unharmed officer dived to the ground and used their riot shields for protection, Mantzounis, who had not been wearing a bulletproof vest, was struck before he had time to react. The 21-year-old reportedly only graduated to serve in the force a few months ago. Police have been interviewing Exarchia residents in the hope of finding someone who saw the two attackers and possibly one or more accomplices before or after the shooting. The gunmen also threw a hand grenade after firing the shots. Tests have revealed that the grenade was manufactured by a Greek company, Elviemek, which stopped operating about a year ago. The company supplied the Greek army with this type of grenade and police suspect that the one used on Monday was stolen from an army camp. The investigation into the attack is being led by Greece’s anti-terrorist squad, which met under the chairmanship of Police Chief Vassilis Tsiatouras on Monday night. Terrorism experts are examining CCTV footage from shops in Exarchia in the hope of finding some clues about the identities of the gunmen. Sources said that authorities will continue to bring people in for questioning, in a bid to both discover more information and also deter any other attack.