A qualified success

The Greek police appear to have scored a major success with the arrest of six suspected members of the Revolutionary Struggle terrorist group, which has carried out several sensational attacks since 2003. In fact, it is the biggest breakthrough in the effort to contain urban guerrillas since members of Greece’s deadliest organization, November 17, were arrested in 2002. Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis was also in charge eight years ago and many are crediting him with this success. Desperate not to be left out, the previous government’s interior minister, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, has suggested that all the groundwork for these arrests was laid during New Democracy’s tenure. But if we may interrupt the backslapping for a moment, some worrying questions about our security forces arise from evidence that has emerged about Revolutionary Struggle in the past few days. Similar questions were asked when the November 17 case began to unravel. In fact, the similarities between the two are interesting. The breakthrough in the N17 investigation came when a bomb blew up in the hands of one of its members, Savvas Xeros. Similarly, a botched attempt to steal a car last month, during which microbiologist Lambros Fountas was shot dead by police, also provided a launch pad for the arrest of Revolutionary Struggle suspects. As was the case with N17, it emerged that many of the Revolutionary Struggle suspects were known to the police. And, as we discovered eight years ago, these terrorists bear a greater resemblance to common criminals than they do to ideological freedom fighters – extracts of mobile phone conversations between some of those arrested on Sunday reveal mundane conversations about women, payment of bills and meeting for coffee. Although the trial of the current crop of alleged terrorists will reveal more detailed information, we already know enough to ask at least one vital question: Why were they able to evade arrest for so long? It may seem churlish to ask that now, so soon after the arrests, but considering that it’s a miracle Revolutionary Struggle did not murder anyone and that only a stroke of luck halted its plans for further action, it would also be foolish not to question the effectiveness of our security forces. For instance, the group’s alleged mastermind, Nikos Maziotis, was apparently able to act with impunity despite being known to police since the late 1990s, when he was jailed for placing a bomb outside the Development Ministry. In his statement to the court, Maziotis had made it clear that he felt waging «war» against the state was a legitimate form of protest and that he had no qualms about killing policemen. One would expect that upon his release, such a person would be placed under close surveillance. If he was being watched, then you have to wonder how he allegedly coordinated more than a dozen hits, including bombings and armed raids, since 2003. Pavlopoulos denied on Wednesday that he ordered surveillance of Maziotis to cease as part of a deal to stop him playing a leading role in the riots of December 2008. Such a claim seems far-fetched but misgivings about our authorities’ professionalism and capabilities remain, especially considering that both the police – its specialist antiterrorism squad included – and the National Intelligence Service have been involved in the effort to keep tabs on suspects like Maziotis. Since other groups, such as the murderous Sect of Revolutionaries, are still likely to be active, real success for the Greek police will lie in learning from its mistakes and not relying on luck to stop terrorists in the future. The potential cost of failure is too painful to consider.

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