By Ioannis Michaletos, International Analyst Network

The following short case studies examine several terrorist attacks by Greek domestic groups in Athens over the past 20 years. Each attack is being described in two parts with data derived from open sources material.

The Greek domestic terrorist groups are active in the country since the mid-70’s and although quite a few groups have been disbanded, some still operate and manage to attack.

1) Greek Finance Minister attacked in 1992 and a 22year old passerby killed

The Greek Finance Minister Yannis Palaiokrassas was attacked by members of the 17th November terrorist group with a grenade launcher, on June the 14th in the center of Athens, while he was passing by with his ministerial car.

The attack didn’t hurt the minister or his entourage, but it proved fatal for the 22year old Athanasios Axarlian who was accidentally passing by the pavement right across the car of the Minister.

The busy Athenian road where the attack took place, named Voukourestiou was sealed off by the police but the culprits managed to escape, presumably with the use of motor bikes that were safely stationed near the attack scene. (1)

The attack resulted in a wide range police operation with no avail and prompted Mitsotakis government to request by the Parliament to pass a Law prohibiting newspaper of presenting proclamations by terrorists in order to show the intolerance of the state towards the terrorists.

The death of Axarlain was also a turning point for the 17th November group since it was the first accidental civilian death and damaged the aura of the group to the sectors of the public that viewed domestic terrorism under a sympathetic point of view. (2)

The Attack

The terrorists launched a grenade launched from an apartment across the area where the ministerial car was passing by early in the morning of 14th of June. Due to a few seconds of delay the car was not destroyed and a young person passing by was fatally injured, since he was walking right beside where the grenade was exploded.

The terrorists managed to escape unnoticed and later on during the trail of the 17th November group in 2003, it was revealed that 2 persons took part in the attack who had extensively monitored the are days before and had rent an apartment so as to be able to launch the attack from an advantageous location for them. They had also made several rehearsals concerning the method of their operation. (3)

(1) Kathimerini Newspaper

(2) In News

(3) ENET newspaper

2)Greek Ship owner is killed in Piraeus in 1997

The Greek ship owner Costa Peratikos was assassinated by the 17th of November group on the 25th of March in a street nearby the port of Piraeus. The assailants shoot him with a 0.45 mm automatic weapon which was the primary lethal emblem of the 17th of November group and was used in many attacks including that of the CIA chief of station in Athens, Wells, in 1975. (1)

Peratikos was entangled in a legal battle with the then Greek government concerning the mismanagement of a shipyard he previously owned and was re-nationalized previously of his death. The attacked caused a stir in the Greek business world and the father of the diseased launched a nation-wide protest campaign in order to raise sensitivity to the public in issues concerning domestic terrorism. (2)

The attack

The terrorists operating as a couple approached Peratikos while he was walking to his office in Filonos street in Piraeus. They shot him several times and abandoned the scene of the crime using motorbikes that were stationed nearby and were stolen over the previous day having their license plates changed.

Peraticos did not make it to the hospital and eye witnesses were not able to provide a clear description of the terrorists that were operating in a fast and decisive manner and were careful as not to disclose their facial characteristics or their voice pattern. (3)

(1) HRI

(2) BBC

(3) 4 ΤΡΟΧΟΙ-Αντίλογος

3)Murder of the British Defense Attaché Stephen Saunders

British Defense Attaché Stephen Saunders, 53, was gunned down in central Athens on Thursday 8 June at 7:40am. Saunders was stuck in traffic on Kifissias Avenue when he was shot through his closed car window by two persons on a motorcycle.

He was taken to the local Red Cross hospital where he died just over three hours later.

The next day, the November 17 terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack. The group, which is named for the day in 1973 when the Colonels’ Junta crushed a student uprising, has killed twenty-one people since its emergence in 1975. None of its members have ever been arrested or prosecuted.

In a 13-page proclamation sent to the Greek daily Eleftherotypia, November 17 said Saunders was assassinated because he “actively participated in coordinating the NATO air raids and bombing of Serbia” in the spring of 1999. The British Embassy in Athens denied that Saunders had “any direct role” in NATO’s campaign.

The Greek government and opposition political parties alike denounced the British diplomat’s assassination as a barbarous act of terrorism. Prime Minister Costas Simitis said “we will not permit anyone to disturb the calm and progress being achieved, or to blacken the image of a modern, peaceful and democratic Greece.” He also promised to spare no effort in bringing the assassins to justice. (1)

The shooting occurred at almost the exact spot where an American naval attaché was gunned down in 1983 (2)

The days after the attack various theories were made available to the domestic media regarding the causes of the attack, that have been largely unknown even nowadays. It was made known later known that the Defense Attaché has never participated in the NATO air raids and the war in ex-Yugoslavia. According to Greek media commentary, there may have been a mistake by the terrorists regarding the identity of the Attaché. (3)

That was the last attack by the 17th November group that was finally disbanded in July 2002. The outcry against the attack on Brigadier Saunders along with heightened security measures and international police cooperation, lead finally to the arrest of the terrorists.

The attack

On May 17th, Stephen Saunders, the British Defense Attaché in Greece has been shot dead in his car in Athens. 

Saunders was rushed to a local hospital in a serious condition, but died later of his injuries.

The two gunmen opened fire on Brigadier Saunders as the British official drove a white Rover belonging to the embassy along Kifissias avenue in a northern suburb. 

It appears that the car the Brigadier was driving was not bullet proofed. Ballistic tests revealed that the gun used had been used by the 17th November group in past attacks. (4)

The attack took place on Thursday morning 8th of June 2000, just a few days when in Washington on Monday June the 5th, the National Commission on Terrorism reported to Congress that Greece “has been disturbingly passive in response to terrorist activities.” (5)

(2) Association of Former Intelligence Officers


(4)BBC World News

(5) The Tech Online-Washington Post

4)Attack against the American Embassy in Athens

A rocket-propelled grenade slammed into the American Embassy on January the 12th 2007, causing limited damage and no injuries. The shoulder-fired missile narrowly missed a large blue-and-white American seal on the embassy’s facade and damaged a third-floor bathroom near the ambassador’s office. U.S. Ambassador Charles Ries called the attack “very serious” and said no warning had been given (1).

Four fire engines rushed to the scene, amid reports that the explosion struck the embassy and local residents called in to state television saying they had felt the explosion, which shattered some windows. (2)

Panayiotis Stathis, spokesman for the Public Order Ministry, also said, “This was a violent act aimed to provoke Greek public opinion and disturb relations with the United States.”

The strike against the embassy here was not unprecedented. On Feb. 15, 1996, another antitank rocket hit an outside wall of the embassy, damaging three diplomatic vehicles. (3)

The rocket, apparently fired from more than 300 yards away across a busy boulevard and over a ten-foot security wall, smashed the glass front of the building. The responsibility for the attacked was bore by the “Revolutionary Struggle”, a shadowy extremist group with Marxist leanings and strong anti-American sentiments that emerged from obscurity in 2003 with the bombing of an Athens courthouse complex. (4)

Investigators found the device used to fire the rocket shell at a construction site near the embassy.

Police cordoned off streets around the embassy. Authorities were searching apartment buildings and a hospital nearby for evidence. Traffic came to a standstill across parts of the city’s downtown as police and emergency services scrambled to the embassy. (5)

The terrorist attack against the US Embassy in Athens, the location, and the way it was hit, indicated that it was performed by very well-trained terrorists capable of performing terrorist acts in the city center and in one of the busiest streets in the Greek capital. So far, there was no-known eyewitness who saw the terrorists or the launch of the rocket. (6)

Greek Police sources have confirmed after that the rocket launcher was Russian made in 1962 and this weapon was never used in the country in another attack in the past. (7)

Moreover, concerning the timing of the terrorist attack, the Greek media have noted that it occurred the same day that the special UN envoy Mathew Nimitz was arriving in Athens in order to discuss the standing name issue between Greece and FYROM. In parallel on the 12th of January an appointment was arranged between the Prime Minister Karamanlis and the Public Order Minister Polydoras, in order to discuss issues concerning domestic terrorism and urban style extremism and ways to combat it. (8)

The American side sent a special FBI antiterrorist-team over the following days, in order to examine the visual material obtained by the CCTV’s across the Embassy compound and assist the research for the location of the terrorist group along with the Greek police. (9)

Local experts believed at that period that the attack by the revolutionary struggle would be the beginning of a new round of violence in the country and over the next years more attacks followed in several other targets.

The attack

One of the most expensively protected US embassies in the world – and the most heavily fortified in the Balkans – the Embassy building was attacked at 5:58am when security guards where changing shifts. Greek security officials said the grenade was fired from a street opposite by assailants probably riding a motorbike. (10) The rocket landed in a toilet on the third floor of the building, which also houses Ambassador Charles Ries’s office. No one was in the area of the building at the time, and no one was hurt, an embassy official said. (11)

Greek anti-terrorist officers arrived on the scene. The senior police official said Greece’s deputy police chief and Athens police chief had gone into the building together with officers of the national security and anti-terrorist squads. Dozens of police cars surrounded the embassy and police cordoned off all roads in the area, including a major boulevard in front of the mission.

The attack came just a day after President Bush announced he was sending 21,500 extra troops into Iraq to try and stem the rapidly-escalating sectarian violence. (12)

(1) New York Sun

(2) Herald Sun

(3) New York Times

(7) In Greece:

(8) Eleftherotypia newspaper

(9) ANT1 TV Station:

(10) The Guardian

(11) The Washington Post

(12) Daily Mail

5) Antiterrorist Police Officer attacked

On June 17th, 2009, the Antiterrorist Police Officer Nektarios Savvas was killed by gunmen in the Athens district of Ano-Patissia.   

Nektarios Savvas, 41, a member of the anti-terrorism branch, was hit at least a dozen times as he sat with a cup of coffee in an unmarked police car outside the flat of Sophia Kyriakidou in the inner-city Patissia quarter. The killers sped away on motorbikes. (1)

Police spokesman Panagiotis Stathis said between 15 and 20 shots were fired at officer Nektarios Savvas by at least two gunmen at about 6:20 a.m. local time in the residential district of Patisia. The officer had just taken over the morning guard duty shift outside the home of a person in a witness protection program after testifying at the trial of a member of the far-left Greek group Revolutionary Popular Struggle, known by its Greek acronym ELA. Only the officer was targeted in the attack, with no attempt apparently made to approach the home of the witness. (2)

Savvas had been in plain clothes and in an unmarked vehicle but locals claimed to have been aware of his role as a witness protection officer. The 41-year-old had been just 20 minutes into his shift, which began at 6 a.m., when the masked assailants appeared and started shooting him at nearly point blank range in the head and chest. The gunmen and a third man believed to have acted as a lookout, and then fled on two motorcycles, according to witnesses.

The Revolutionary Sect terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting of the officer. The police had suspected from the start the involvement of Revolutionary Sect after finding 24 9mm cartridge cases at the scene matched to a weapon already used by the group which emerged in February. At the time, it had machine-gunned a police station and the headquarters of a private television channel in Athens and had warned of further indiscriminate attacks on police. (4)

The Police claimed that more than thirty witnesses have been questioned, with five testimonies being viewed as the most important ones.

Evidence has suggested that the assailants were more than four. Three men wearing helmets walked towards the police car of the officer, who was guarding a key witness for an ELA trial. Two of them assumed positions in front of the car and the third at its left side and opened fire, shooting the 41-year-old policeman, father to a toddler, in the chest and head. They then ran towards a nearby street, where at least one accomplice of them was waiting and they vanished into thin air. (5)

The attack

Nektarios Savas, 41, was shot dead around daybreak in Athens yesterday while sitting in his unmarked vehicle outside the witness’s home when three unknown assailants on motorbikes opened fire. He was hit by around 15 bullets and declared dead in hospital. Savas, a married father of one child, was attacked at around 6.20am, outside the home of Sofia Kyriakidou, who was a state witness in the 2004 trial of four followers of the extremist People’s Revolutionary Struggle (ELA). The four were sentenced to 25 years in jail but later released, mostly for health reasons. (6)

(1) Times

(2) CBC News

(3) Kathimerini newspaper

(4) News 24

(5) Express Newspaper

(6) The Star newspaper