N17 suspect’s claims ‘fantastic’

Greece’s war against terrorism entered a new phase over the weekend, when one of the key suspects in the November 17 case began giving telephone interviews to a television channel, claiming he had been drugged and threatened with death in order to confess. Savvas Xeros, a 40-year-old icon painter, did not retract any of the statements he had made to police and prosecutors after he was injured by a bomb he was carrying in Piraeus on June 29. But he claimed that the confessions, which set off a chain of another 16 arrests, had been coerced. He used a public telephone in Korydallos Prison to phone Alpha Channel reporter Makis Triandafyllopoulos on Saturday and Sunday. A tape of the second interview was broadcast. Yesterday Xeros went live in a conversation with Alpha journalist and Communist Party MP Liana Kanelli. On Sunday the Supreme Court prosecutor, Evangelos Kroustallakis, said that everything in the investigation had been done legally and with the interests of the defendants in mind. Yesterday, the Evangelismos Hospital, where Xeros was treated, was forced to deny that he had been visited by a (so far unnamed) politician and his other claims. (He said he had been subjected to «mock executions» by police ostensibly planning to make his death from a gunshot in the intensive care unit look like a suicide). The hospital said that no politician had visited Xeros, suggesting that he had confused this with a visit by a professor of psychiatry, Ioannis Mandonakis, who was summoned to examine him on July 5. «The medication given the patient was under the absolute control of the responsible nurses and doctors and was administered by doctors with the sole aim of saving the life and treating the patient. Every other reference belongs to the sphere of the fantastic,» the statement said. The government spokesman said he refused to enter «a dialogue with terrorists» and he called on the public and news media to react against the «ridiculous fairy tales» of the «terrorists, murderers and robbers.» In any case, Xeros’s hours on the air provoked a crackdown by the prosecutor in charge of Korydallos Prison, where 16 suspected members of November 17 are being held pending trial, and the council that governs the prison. The council decided that the suspects may use the payphone at their disposal only to call relatives (those who have visiting rights) and their lawyers. On another matter, the council decided that alleged gang leader Alexandros Yotopoulos, his alleged chief of operations, Dimitris Koufodinas, and Nikos Papanastassiou, another alleged senior member, could exercise together. The three – the only ones who have not confessed to any crimes or helped police in the investigation – had been exercising on their own. All suspects are in single cells except for Savvas Xeros, who is sharing a cell with one of two of his brothers who have also confessed to being members of November 17. Yesterday, blood was taken from all 16 suspects so that authorities could match their DNA with that found in two hideouts and on evidence. Angeliki Sotiropoulou, Xeros’s former wife and Koufodinas’s current companion, is also expected to provide a blood sample. A council of judges is to rule within the next few days whether she should be the 17th suspect jailed pending trial. Her fingerprints were found in a hideout. The government released a letter from US President George W. Bush to PM Costas Simitis, saying: «The American people are grateful to you and the citizens of Greece for your invaluable contribution to the campaign to free the world of terrorism.»

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