ATHENS – Following a dramatic, running gun battle through a crowed tourist area in which notorious terrorist leader Nikos Maziotis was captured, Greek police turned toward looking for his hideout or other clues about his Revolutionary Struggle organization.
Maziotis, who had been a fugitive since 2012 after he and his wife, Panayiota Roupa, had to be released from detention because they hadn’t been brought to trial in 18 months, was seriously injured in an exchange of fire with police in the busy district of Monastiraki, which also left a policeman with minor injuries and slightly hurt two tourists – a German and an Australian.
Police sources told the newspaper Kathimerini that they were closing in on Roupa as well as November 17 hit man Christodoulos Xiros, who walked away from a holiday furlough he was given at Christmas last year even though he was serving six life sentences for his role in six assassinations, including five Americans attached to the U.S., Embassy in Athens over the years since the 1970s.
Counterterrorism officers were reportedly focusing on an area running from Patissia in central Athens to Grammatiko in northeastern Attica. It is thought that Maziotis could have one or more weapons caches there.
Police said they believe Maziotis used a forged identity card – bearing his photo and the name Michalis Michelakis – to rent a property that could have operated as a hideout.
The ID card was used to buy a silver Hyundai Accent that has been linked to a bank robbery in Kleitoria, Achaia prefecture, in March and is believed to have been used by Maziotis to travel to and around Attica.
Police appealed to anyone with information about the vehicle – whose license plate is YHT 2959 – to come forward.
Police had been monitoring the center of Athens after receiving tip-offs according to which Maziotis had been sighted in Monastiraki, Omonia Square and other parts of central Athens in recent weeks.
He was spotted by counter-terrorism officers close to Omonia, was followed and then stopped outside a store selling camping goods on the corner of Athinas and Ermou streets.
Officers ordered him to surrender, but he fired his gun, prompting police to fire back. He then fled on foot through the streets of Monastiraki, which were packed with tourists, pursued by police officers.
Police cornered him on busy Mitropoleos Street, where there was another exchange of fire and Maziotis fell to the sidewalk after being hit in the shoulder by a police bullet.
At one point during the chase, Maziotis tried to get into a taxi but staggered and fell. The cabbie sped off but was finally traced by police who detained him and were seeking to establish whether he was Maziotis’s accomplice or had happened to be passing through the area before panicking and fleeing after getting caught in the stand-off.
The 42-year-old underwent surgery at Evangelismos Hospital evening and remained under armed guard with sources indicating that he would have to remain in the hospital for two weeks.
A 29-year-old police officer hit in the thigh by one of the eight bullets Maziotis is said to have fired was being treated in a military hospital.
The 19-year-old Australian tourist was hospitalized for treatment to light shrapnel wounds while the German tourist declined hospital care and returned instead to Piraeus to continue with his cruise.
The Australian was visited in the hospital by three cabinet members – Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni, Health Minister Makis Voridis and Public Order Minister Vassilis Kikilias.
Since his disappearance in July 2012, Maziotis has been linked to six armed robberies as well as an armed attack on the offices of the ruling New Democracy Conservatives of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ offices on Syngrou Avenue and a car bomb blast outside the Bank of Greece in the city center in April.
Maziotis and his wife Roupa have been on the Most Wanted list since they failed to honor the terms of their conditional release. Earlier this year police offered 1 million euros for information leading to either of the two.
Police Chief Dimitris Tsaknakis said Maziotis fired eight times from a handgun while being pursued and was fired upon and hit once in the shoulder by police.
“He tried to obscure his appearance … and was wearing a wig. The anti-terrorism police requested that officers in the area check his identity,” he said.
Tsaknakis said Maziotis was using a false identity, and had been implicated in two bank robberies since his disappearance. But he refused to say whether police believed he had an accomplice in the shooting.
A group of a few dozen protesters appeared on the street outside the hospital, chanting slogans and holding a banner in support of Maziotis. They were met by riot police who prevented them from reaching the hospital entrance, and the protesters left shortly afterward.
Police were searching for suspected accomplices, and for where he might have been staying in Athens.
Photographs from the scene of the shooting showed the suspect lying in a pool of blood on a sidewalk, his hands handcuffed behind his back, before he was taken in a police-escorted ambulance to a nearby hospital.
The scene of the gun battle resembled a movie shoot-out. “The whole thing lasted about half an hour. We saw a lot of police running through the streets and later we heard the shots,” souvenir store employee Makis Tourounias said.
“There wasn’t much panic. Store owners and police were telling people to come indoors. But not everyone realized what was going on.”
Vassilis Kikilias called the arreste of Maziotis “an important success” that would have “multiple benefits for Greek society.”
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)