After 25 years of complaints from Washington and other Western capitals, a worried Greek socialist government is redoubling its long efforts to crush a shadowy, seemingly invulnerable terrorist group.
Since Aug. 1, the government has offered a reward of over $4 million for information leading to arrest and conviction of any members of November 17.
That group is blamed for the June 8 murder of a British military attaché, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, who was shot at close range in Athens traffic while on his way to work by two assailants on motorbikes.
The need for total security for the 2004 Athens summer Olympics is concentrating the minds of Greeks on the terrorist threat as never before.
During a July visit to Greece to check preparations, the International Olympics Committee is believed to have stressed the issue in private meetings.
News of security sweeps for the September Olympics in Sydney, Australia, reached Greece in the media and in hundreds of daily phone calls to relatives from close to three million overseas Greeks living down under.
Commentators here argue that terrorism in other Olympic host or aspirant states, such as Spain and Russia, have killed far more people than Greece’s notorious November 17 terrorist group.
Increased Pressure Nevertheless, the government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis has worked and lobbied tirelessly and successfully to bring the Olympics back to its original home, so the 2004 summer games are now a crucial issue. The loss of the games would be a severe blow to national pride.
Greece has set up two hotlines enabling callers to phone in information on terrorist activities anonymously. Judges and police are to be given new anti-terrorist powers, long urged by the United States.
Such powers would give law enforcement the ability to react to terrorist threats more quickly; for example, the ability to expedite search warrants.
A British Embassy staffer said, “It seems the Greeks have woken up. The former public indifference to the terrorism problem seems to be at an end.”
There has been a wave of public sympathy in Greece. Saunders’ widow Heather and the chief of Greece’s army staff appeared together this week at an emotional service at Brig. Saunders gravesite in Melbury Osmand, England.
Mrs. Saunders said she was satisfied that Athens authorities were doing their best to find her husband’s killers.
First British Victim
November 17’s targets have been widely varied. After Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974, driving out the Greek-Cypriot population, Greeks blamed the U.S.-backed military junta then ruling mainland Greece.
November 17 apparently began with an anti-junta Greek underground of Leftists and anti-Fascists, who conspired to murder CIA Athens station chief Richard Welch.
They blamed Welch for collaborating with the junta to bring about the Turkish invasion and “loss” of Cyprus. Cyprus’ northern region is still occupied by 35,000 Turkish troops today.
November 17’s next victims were Greek officers known to have tortured political prisoners for the junta, and several senior U.S. military officers.
In the 1980s, they are said to have killed several Turkish diplomats. Their next targets were wealthy Greek businessmen accused of “exploiting” Greek workers. The last American was killed in 1991.
Brig. Saunders was the first British victim. Greek officials speculate that he was an easy target because he was unarmed and had no bodyguard. U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns and his staff have redoubled precautions since Brig. Saunders’ murder.
The group said they killed him because “England took part in bombardments [of Yugoslavia].”
The British government denied that Brig. Saunders had anything to do with Kosovo. His main job here, British sources said, was selling British military equipment to Greece.