Greek Terrorist Suspect Confesses
Jul. 22, 2002
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ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ The latest suspect arrested in a crackdown against the elusive November 17 terror group has confessed to stealing rockets and bazookas for the organization and participating in a bombing, police said Monday.
Thomas Serifis, a German-born Greek bus driver, was arraigned a day after he was captured Sunday in northern Greece, the 10th person to be arrested in the sweep against the organization that bombed, assassinated and robbed with impunity for 27 years.
Serifis, 36, admitted to helping steal dozens of anti-tank rockets from an army base in central Greece in 1989 and bazookas from Athens' War Museum the following year.
He also confessed to participating in the 1989 bombing of an abandoned house, which caused no injuries, and a 1990 bank robbery that netted more than $137,000. At the time, November 17 said it carried out the bombing to protest the lack of affordable housing in Athens.
Under heavy security, Serifis appeared before a prosecutor and was charged with felony counts of forming a criminal organization, the supply and possession of explosives, aggravated theft and causing an explosion, and with a misdemeanor count of weapons possession. If convicted on all counts, he faces a minimum prison sentence of 20 years.
Another eight suspected November 17 members _ including alleged leader Alexanders Giotopoulos, 58 _ already have been charged with crimes ranging from murder to armed robbery and planting explosives. Four have confessed to participating in assassinations, while Giotopoulos has denied any involvement in the group.
Police still have not accounted for nine of the group's 23 killings, and are still scouring the country for more suspects, including 44-year-old beekeeper Dimitris Koufodinas, believed to be a crucial link between Giotopoulos and the other men arrested so far. Authorities also are looking for at least one woman suspected of participating in at least one assassination.
Authorities scored their first success against the group when they captured a suspect following a botched June 29 bomb attack. The capture triggered a series of arrests and raids on two November 17 weapons caches.
That man _ 40-year-old Savas Xiros _ remains hospitalized under heavy guard and has not been officially arrested or charged, although he is believed to be a leading member of the group's hit men. Two of his brothers are in custody and have confessed to a series of murders, bomb attacks and robberies.
November 17 first appeared with the 1975 assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch and its victims include four American officials, two Turkish diplomats and leading Greek businessmen and politicians. Their last victim was British military attache Brig. Stephen Saunders, shot dead in Athens two years ago.
But Premier Costas Simitis _ whose government came under increasing pressure to crack down on domestic terrorism as Athens geared up to host the 2004 Olympic Games _ repeated that it will take time before authorities are able to completely eradicate terrorism in Greece.
``I want to emphasize that the eradication of terrorism still has work and it requires time,'' Simitis said. The crackdown ``isn't a thriller played out on a Saturday night for the pleasure of the viewers. It is an effort that ... requires much evidence and that's why accountability and patience are needed.''
One of November 17's victims was the uncle of chief Olympics organizer Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who on Monday praised authorities' progress in breaking up the terror group.
``Our country takes very seriously this issue of eradicating terrorism, which is related with our country's preparations for the 2004 games,'' said Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, whose uncle was killed in 1986.
``There is not doubt that our country is living through moving moments and of course it sees some very important steps that have to do with terrorism.''
The Eleftherotypia newspaper reported Sunday that the arrests foiled a plot by November 17 to attack NATO peacekeepers based in Kosovo as they traveled through Greece.
The newspaper said evidence had been found at November 17 hide-outs suggesting the urban guerrillas were gathering information on NATO convoys leaving the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki.
The youngest suspect detained so far, 26-year-old Dionissis Georgiadis, had served in the army's special forces. But military authorities refused to comment on newspaper reports that he had served with NATO peacekeepers in the Balkans.
Greece and the United States both have offered rewards totaling $9 million for information leading to the arrest of November 17 members, believed to number a few dozen. Authorities have not said whether any reward money has been given out.