Greek Police Arrest Nov. 17 Suspect
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ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ The arrest Wednesday of a second suspected leader of Greece’s most-wanted terrorist group highlighted the close family ties that apparently kept November 17 members beyond the reach of authorities for 27 years.
Police sources said the capture of 46-year-old Pavlos Serifis also could give them a way to link the group’s founders and the alleged hit squad that carried out most of its 22 assassinations.
Police arrested Serifis at an Athens children’s hospital in northern Karditsa where he worked as a telephone operator. He was being questioned at Athens police headquarters.
Serifis, who is related to two other suspects already in custody, is believed to have used the code name ``Nikitas″ and may be November 17′s second-in-command after Alexandros Giotopoulos, police sources said.
Serifis also may have carried instructions from Giotopoulos to the hit squad, according to police.
Authorities now have arrested 12 suspected group members, including the 58-year-old Paris-born Giotopoulos.
Giotopoulos has pleaded innocent and denied any connection with the group, but police say others in custody identified him as the leader.
In recent days, authorities have focused their search on people believed to have allegedly started the group, which first appeared with the 1975 killing of the CIA station chief in Athens.
Since then, November 17 has killed three other American officials, two Turkish diplomats, numerous Greek businessmen and a Greek politician. The group’s last victim was British military attache Brig. Stephen Saunders in June 2000. Authorities charge the group killed 23 people altogether. It has claimed responsibility for 22 deaths.
November 17 is named for the date in 1973 when Greece’s military junta, which ruled from 1967 to 1974, crushed a student uprising in Athens. The extreme leftist group said it targeted Americans and their allies because Washington backed the dictatorship.
Police contend part of the reason they were unable to infiltrate November 17 during decades of bombings, robberies and assassinations were the strong family and friendship ties between its members.
But once the organization was penetrated that same factor seems to be leading to a quick unraveling of the organization.
Serifis reportedly is the cousin of bus driver Thomas Serifis, 36, who was arrested Sunday, and a distant cousin of real estate agent Iraklis Kostaris, 36, charged with participating in four attempted murders.
Pavlos Serifis reportedly was raised by Kostaris’ family after being orphaned.
Kostaris was a close family friend and business associate of the man he was arrested with _ real estate agent Costas Karatsolis. The latter also shared an Athens apartment with Thomas Serifis.
The other suspects in custody include three brothers _ sons of a Greek Orthodox priest _ and their family friend.
Authorities have named only one wanted man _ beekeeper Dimitris Koufodinas, 44. Until recently, he lived with the former wife of one arrested brother.
From their depositions, the suspects appear to have been the group’s alleged ``operational team″ _ men who carried out orders and struck whatever target they were ordered to hit, sometimes without even knowing the name of the person they were about to kill.
What remains unclear is how they were trained and who prepared their bombs.
A prosecutor Wednesday charged schoolteacher Costas Tellios, who surrendered to police Tuesday in northern Thessaloniki, with participating in one murder, two attempted murders, theft and armed robbery.
Giotopoulos, the alleged leader, pleaded innocent Tuesday to multiple counts of murder and attempted murder _ charges for which he faces life in prison. Giotopoulos sought to discredit the confessions of those who implicated him.
The first big break in the investigation came June 29, when 40-year-old painter Savas Xiros was seriously injured during a botched bombing. His deposition led to the arrest of his two brothers and eight other people. Police also found November 17 hide-outs and a weapons cache.