Demands for a terrorist crackdown irk Greece

Even by the shadowy standards of terrorist groups, the Revolutionary Organization November 17 is a mysterious entity. In the past 26 years, it has killed 23 people, including four American officials, a US Embassy employee, and a British military attache.

While the CIA, the FBI, and Britain's Scotland Yard have at times assisted Greek authorities in their investigations, no one has ever been arrested for the murders.

Families of some of the victims - frustrated with the lack of results - have begun a lobbying campaign that they hope will achieve what Greek police haven't: bring those responsible to justice. And they hope the attention Greece gets leading up to the 2004 Olympics, in Athens, will help.

Critical documentary

On March 18, the BBC ran a highly critical documentary - which speculated on possible ties between the terrorist group and an influential Greek political party.

Nicos Peraticos, a London-based businessman whose brother was killed by November 17 in 1997, says the families want "to take the opportunity to remind anyone who would listen that there's this terrible unresolved injustice."

The US State Department and Congress have both criticized Athens for its record on terrorism, charging the government with a lack of political will. Some in Congress have even called for sanctions.

Behind the name

The name November 17 commemorates a student uprising against the military junta that ran Greece from 1967 to 1974. Its first victim, in 1975, was Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens. Others followed, each accompanied by a rambling justification based on a struggle against imperialism.

The murder last year of Brig. Stephen Saunders, the British defense attache in Athens, brought the group back to public attention in Europe. November 17 said its ambush was in response to his alleged involvement in the 1999 NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia.

His widow, Heather Saunders, made a tearful appeal to Greek authorities at the time: "For the sake and future of Greece within the European Community, these wicked men must be brought to justice." Officers from Scotland Yard flew to Greece to assist in the investigation. But since then, the case seems to have dried up.

Mrs. Saunders and Mr. Peraticos, who are leaders of the lobbying effort, hope that bringing the issue before policymakers and the public will pressure the Greek government to take a more aggressive stance. On Sunday, Saunders will unveil a plaque in her husband's memory at the British Embassy in Athens.

The BBC's hour-long documentary ran on the eve of a visit to London by Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis. What most infuriated Greek officials was its mention of one of many conspiracy theories that circulate about the group: that November 17 has been shielded because it has ties to senior members of PASOK, the socialist party that has been in power in Greece for most of the past quarter-century. Ties may have been formed under the junta between members of the group and leading socialists, the BBC program speculated.

That view is "absolutely preposterous," says Nicos Papadakis, press counselor at the Greek Embassy in London. The program was prejudiced and ill-informed, he says, noting that the great majority of November 17's victims have been Greeks, not foreigners. What's more, he says, several of the governments in power since the group appeared have been conservative - including the current administration.

Mr. Papadakis expressed sympathy for the victims' families, saying Heather Saunders is "a very dignified lady, and our heart and our sympathy go out to her."

He says Greece's failure to catch any of the killers, "is a legitimate question.

"We are the first to recognize we have a problem," Papadakis adds.

The mysterious November 17

That problem lies in the lack of police resources and training, and in the methodology and structure of November 17, he says. The group kills irregularly, it appears to be very small, and it has never engaged in indiscriminate acts of mass terror of the sort that might persuade others to turn in the culprits.

November 17 is "a small, tightly compartmentalized organization," says Bruce Hoffman, an expert on international terrorism at the Rand Corp. The group is "not vulnerable to informants or agents provocateurs," he says. And in terms of their professionalism, "their tradecraft is very good."

Papadakis says new legislation designed to combat terrorism and organized crime will help. Among other provisions, it introduces a witness-protection program.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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