Murder Gun Betrays Greek Terror Group after 27 Years

The shadowy November 17 terrorist group that for 27 years eluded the Greek police has finally tripped up on a single mistake: It used the same 45-caliber gun for at least half dozen of the 23 political assassinations it committed from 1975. That gun was preserved and is now in the hands of Greece’s anti-terrorist police, a lucky break in an investigation long believed hopeless, as Greece prepares to host the 2004 Olympic Games.
Hours after identifying the gun, the Greek police laid hands on the group’s suspected leader. He is described in Greek newspapers as a 60-year old left wing professor, who taught at ParisUniversity between 1967 and 1974 when the “Colonels Junta” ruled in Athens. The group took its name from the 1973 student uprising crushed by the army.
The academic is identified only by his nom de guerre of “Nikitas”. He was apparently detained by an anti-terrorist squad on an Aegean island called Lipsi after boarding a hydrofoil for nearby Patmos. He is said to be married to a French woman. Another published detail: He painted his house pink instead of the mandatory white ruled in local by-laws.
Last month, the police arrested a 40-year-old artist, Savas Xyros, who was seriously hurt – critically, according to some reports – when a bomb he was planting in Piraeus, the port of Athens, exploded prematurely. He is apparently cooperating with prosecutors.
The 45-caliber gun police found beside him was identified as the weapon used in the murder of a Greek policeman in 1984 and six others.
At the artist’s apartment in an upscale Athens neighborhood, police found a large weapons cache, including bombs and anti-tank missiles. They found second weapons cache in another Athens apartment some days later.
Most of the victims of November 17 were American, British and Turkish intelligence personnel and several key political and business figures in Greece. Richard Welch, the CIA chief in Athens, was the group’s first victim in 1975; British defense attache Stephen Saunders, gunned down on his way to work in June 2000, was the most recent.
The group’s other victims include:
November 15, 1983 – U.S. military attache George Tsantes shot six times in his car.
June 28, 1988 – U.S. naval attache in Athens Captain William Nordeen, killed by a remote-controlled bomb outside his home.
March 12, 1991 – U.S. air force sergeant Ronald Stewart, by a remote-controlled bomb, in protest against U.S. involvement in the Gulf War.
January 24, 1994 – Former Bank of Greece Governor Michalis Vranopoulos, gunned down with his driver-bodyguard in a central Athens street. The weapon is the group`s signature gun.
May 28, 1997 – Ship owner Costis Peratikos, killed as he leaves his office in the port of Piraeus.
After each attack, the self-declared radical Marxist group announced it aspired to rid Greek of foreign – and especially US and British – capitalist interests.
But debkafile‘s sources in veteran European anti-terror intelligence circles note that all the group’s victims, including Greek business executives and financial figures, were directly linked to intelligence agencies, suggesting that the killings were “wet operations”, or liquidations, rather than murders motivated by political ideology. A statement issued by the group after the murder of the British defense attache two years ago underscores the point. It said Brigadier Saunders was killed because he helped to direct NATO’s bombing of the Serbs in Yugoslavia in 1998. By revealing Saunders’s secret role in the Kosovo war, November 17 signaled it was privy to precise data on the clandestine roles of its victims – information obtainable only by large, sophisticated and state-sponsored intelligence bodies.
For some time, the group was rumored to enjoy the protection in high-placed political circles in Athens. According to debkafile ‘s intelligence sources, the mystery is deeper.
The assassins never knew who sent them. Neither did the Greek authorities or the CIA and MI6, all of whom lost agents in November 17 assassinations. The prevailing theory among those sources is that the long-elusive group is backed by still-active intelligence entities under deep cover since they helped the Soviet KGB infiltrate the US intelligence community, especially the CIA and FBI, at the height of the Cold War.
Both the FBI and the CIA are still trying to establish if the two spies for Moscow, the CIA’s Aldrich Ames and the FBI’s Robert Philip Hanssen, availed themselves of the operational services and capabilities of November 17 in their covert operations for the Russians. The urgency of that search has intensified in view of the possibility that November 17 operatives are linked to al Qaeda cells in Europe.
Getting to the bottom of this enigmatic web could lead to still-hidden channels of penetration of the CIA and FBI, channels that are now serving a new generations of spies and terrorist groups.

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