N17 suspects to change stories?

One day after the last suspected senior operative of the November 17 terrorist gang surrendered to police, three of the other 15 suspects jailed appeared to follow his lead in suggesting yesterday that their crimes were politically motivated. The development was notable in that the statement came from Savvas Xeros and his two brothers, Christodoulos and Vassilis, who are in Korydallos Prison awaiting trial. Savvas Xeros, a 40-year-old icon painter, gave police their first big break in their 27-year investigation into November 17 when he was injured by a bomb he was carrying in Piraeus on June 29. When he regained consciousness a few days later, he began talking to a prosecutor and police, providing information that led to the arrests of his brothers and other operatives. All three, and another 10 detainees, have confessed to their crimes, expressed remorse and asked for leniency in exchange. None said their actions were political. This stance seems to have changed, with a cryptic statement made public by the Xeros brothers’ lawyer, Giorgos Agiostratitis. «Soon there will be a reckoning as to the ‘how, what and why’ concerning the events that took place from June 29 to September 5,» the statement said. «Blame will be apportioned, both within and without the organization, starting with the people involved. As for the confessions, they are the product of a single mind. How this was enforced will be shown soon, so that we can regain our wounded dignity.» Dimitris Koufodinas, who allegedly was with Xeros in Piraeus, turned himself in at Athens police headquarters on Thursday afternoon, after staying underground for more than two months. Speaking to police, and to the investigating judge yesterday, Koufodinas declared that he «undertook political responsibility for the actions claimed by November 17» but not the crimes listed in the indictment against him. He is accused of involvement in scores of crimes since 1984, including 17 of the group’s 23 murders. Judge Leonidas Zervobeakos gave Koufodinas until tomorrow to prepare a statement. After that, Koufodinas is likely to join his 15 comrades in Korydallos Prison. Until then, he is being kept at the headquarters of the anti-terrorism squad on Alexandras Avenue, where he surrendered on Thursday. He has refused to help the authorities in their investigation, not telling them where he hid a. 45 automatic that November 17 had used since its first murder in 1975, the group’s signature stamp and the hard disk of a computer that he removed from a hideout after Xeros’s injury. He has also refused to say who sheltered him during his two months on the run and to provide any information on November 17 or other terrorist groups. The Xeros brothers’ statement, mentioning «dignity,» was an echo of one by Koufodinas on Thursday in which he said «For every fighter, dignity is a basic value.» His lawyer, Gianna Kourtovic, said yesterday that Koufodinas was pleased the Xeros brothers had «got his message.» She said, «He considers this a response to the appeal he issued, a positive response.» This «dialogue» through statements in the media was in marked contrast to the stand taken by the group’s alleged leader, Alexandros Yotopoulos, who has declared repeatedly that he is not part of November 17 and did so again yesterday through his lawyer. Senior Public Order Ministry sources said yesterday that any attempt by the Xeros brothers to recant will fail, as they had repeated the same statements to two prosecutors and these had been backed up by other evidence. Simitis pledges security Even the most elusive aspects of November 17’s activities will be unraveled and laid bare to the public eye following the arrests of the terrorist group’s core members, Prime Minister Costas Simitis promised yesterday during his speech at the opening of the 67th annual Thessaloniki International Fair. «At this point, democracy has crushed terrorism and has instilled a sense of security to Greek society,» Simitis said in an address punctuated with frequent references to security – both social and economic. At the same time, riot police clashed outside the Vellidis conference hall on the TIF grounds with an unlikely alliance of protesting farmers and football supporters who wanted to present their assorted complaints to the PM in person. Some 2,000 farmers, who want higher subsidies and compensation for damaged crops, were allowed to send a delegation to see Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys. A few hundred PAOK Salonica fans, on the other hand, who are unhappy with the football club’s present board of directors, were turned away. Later on, a march of fringe left-wingers was prevented by riot police from approaching the TIF grounds. Clashes ensued, and two protesters were arrested. In his speech, Simitis dismissed the N17 group as «stowaways on left-wing ideology,» adding that «terrorism is no spectacle, it is a threat that must be finally eradicated.»