The resuscitation of the Greek “November 17” marxist group in Athens this week is bad news for the security of the Athens Olympic Games which opens on August 13.
On May 5, the group managed to plant three small but well-placed bombs at a police station located near the hotel that will house the International Olympic Committee. Next day, they followed up with a telephoned threat to the Greek Economy Ministry in downtown Athens.
On the face of it, this local leftwing extremist terrorist group was finally smashed last year when its leaders were apprehended and put away for life after 27 years of violence against the symbols of “American influence and capitalist society.”
The group made its mark by murdering rich Greek bankers and industrialists and high Western intelligence agents. It made its debut in 1975 with the murder of CIA Athens station chief Richard Welch, secret controller of the agency’s spy rings in southern Europe, the Soviet bloc countries and Turkey. November 17’s last assassination targeted British military attache Brigadier Stephen Saunders, whose undercover job was head of British MI6 intelligence in East and South Europe, including Turkey.
This trail of death was attributed generally to a group of Greek malcontents who hated the West. However certain intelligence experts in Washington, London and Tel Aviv were not satisfied with this simplistic explanation. They pointed out that the assassins were armed with exact information not readily available on the movements of super-spies. They had enough highly sensitive knowledge to turn their guns on kingpins of Western intelligence whose clandestine functions were known to very few insiders. It did not stand to reason that Greek anarchists would be able to come by such information.
At the time, intelligence pros decided there was more to “November 17” than met the eye and concluded it was an organ founded by the hidden hands that created the first terrorist international in the nineteen seventies.
This sprawling network also embraced various Palestinian groups in the Middle East, the Baader Meinhoff group in what was then West Germany, Direct Action in France, and the Red Brigades of Italy and Japan as well as spawning the notorious Carlos, the South American terrorist movement’s ambassador to the Palestinian organizations.
Anxious to conceal the degree of their losses, the CIA and MI6 took pains to play down the Greek group’s importance in the world terrorist movement of the day, and let most people assume it was a mere bunch of fringe fanatics.
The Greek group shared this interest and courted obscurity. Unlike most of its violent fellows which trumpeted its feats and the names of its leaders to promote their image, November 17 continued to work in the deepest secrecy.
In July 2002, in the course of a terrorist attack in Piraeus harbor, a member of the group was gravely injured by a bomb that blew up too soon. His interrogation led to the capture of the long-sought November 17 leaders, Alexandros Giotopuls and Dimitris Koufodina and their lieutenants.
As recently as five months ago, in December 2003, they were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Greek government made haste to announce that by smashing the movement, the most dangerous potential security threat to the Olympic Games had been removed.
Once again, the intelligence pros consulted by DEBKA-Net-Weekly took exception. According to experts familiar with the workings of covert organizations, the capture of November 17 leaders did not happen when it did by accident. They advised careful consideration of the possibility that the veteran leaders of the 30-year old group had been sacrificed deliberately to preserve the secret rise of a fresh young leadership practiced in the more modern arts of terror. Its primary target now was the Athens Olympics and its first bombing attack was timed for exactly 100 days before the ceremonial opening to instill fear and anxiety in the teams and the huge gathering expected to attend the events.
Our experts believe that the reappearance of November 17 points attention to three possible dangers:
Al Qaeda has carried out many of its large-scale attacks of late in conjunction with local terrorist groups, as in Madrid, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Istanbul. Similar affiliations have come to light in Britain and France. For a violent assault on the Olympic Games, Osama bin Laden’s network would not object to collaborating even with a Christian group like November 17. And the Greek group has a history of operational and intelligence ties with Muslim extremist factions.
Al Qaeda and November 17 have much in common in their hatred for the West and the symbols of Western culture. An assault on the Olympic Games would suit both as a common goal.
Greece is surrounded by al Qaeda’s logistical and operational bases in Turkey, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Albania, Italy and Chechnya, that could well hook up with the Greek terrorists’ own bases for joint action.