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Society

Greek TV Station, Church Bombs Set Off Alarm Bells, Fears

February 3, 2019

ATHENS – Yianna, 43, a psychologist, is used to the presence of riot police near the apartment where she lives with her partner and their 11-month-old twins, a force guarding a minister for the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA whose house has been attacked by anarchists.

This is Exarchia, the graffiti-strewn grey neighborhood of Greece’s capital that is a stronghold of anti-establishment groups such as the notorious Rouvikonas that’s been rampaging against targets including foreign embassies, government buildings and courts.

But a bomb set off outside a church on Dec. 27 – in the adjoining rich enclave of Kolonaki – and growing violence decried by the government’s political rivals has alarmed even those in Exarchia, used to anarchists and riot police in pitched battles on the streets.

“Now that I have children you’re not quite sure when you go out what might happen,” she told The National Herald. “I don’t see these acts as political or criminal, just silly.”

The bomb she said – following a more powerful one that exploded days earlier outside a major TV station – “are blind hits that don’t have a specific purpose.”

That’s not what those who set them off believe.

A small terrorist group called The Popular Fighters Group said it planted a bomb that exploded outside the offices of SKAI and the newspaper Kathimerini that caused damage but no injuries, amid fears of another spike in violence.

The group said it went after the media outlets to protest their support for austerity policies that punished workers, pensioners and the poors the last 8 ½ years, including under the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

The group has carried out past bombings and gunfire attacks on German-linked targets, an Athens courthouse and the headquarters of Greece’s conservative main opposition party, New Democracy, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has assailed the government for condoning and implicitly encouraging potentially deadly violence.

It wasn’t a bomb, but red paint that Rouvikonas splashed on the US Embassy on Jan. 7 to protest “American imperialism” as well as President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, and also Tsipras’ deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to rename that country North Macedonia, giving away the name of Macedonia.

GOING TO EXTREMES

Paint is one thing but bombs are another and Ioannis Michaletos,  a terrorism and security analyst at the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defence Analysis told The National Herald that someone is likely going to get killed, by accident or design.

“Extremism is being fueled and it is a matter of time,” he said. The church bomb, placed outside on Dec. 27 before a coming holiday service, had inflammable liquid inside and was noticed by a caretaker who called a police officer, both hurt when it exploded.

That came as former Nov. 17 terror group mastermind Dimitris Koufodinas, enjoying a six-day vacation from jail for his group’s assassination of 23 people, including five Americans attached to the embassy, was seen strolling around Athens with a chief of Rouvikonas, past sites where people had been murdered.

“There is a resurgence of domestic terrorism in Greece. There are mainly two set of terrorist network active right now,” said Michaletos.

“One is ‘older,’ such as those who attacked SKAI TV.  They are capable of constructing and detonating specialized explosives and without being detected,” noting that the building housing the station and paper were well-guarded and had surveillance cameras that the perpetrators evaded.
“A second one is ‘new generation’ who placed the explosive in the Kolonaki church. Their mechanism was amateur one and they did not had to evade any security measures in church since there was none,” he said.

The SKAI TV bombing showed a level of sophistication and planning and use of chemicals police said they had traced to the Popular Fighters, one of many terrorist and anarchist groups at large in Greece.

While no one was hurt the blast blew out windows on the glass facade of the structure five stories and it was only because it went off in the middle of the night that no one was hurt, although there could have been tragedies if a car came along or there was a passer-by, such as what happened when a Nov. 17 rocket grenade exploded in downtown Athens, missing its target, a government minister, but killing a student walking along.

The explosion came a month after police defused a bomb outside the Athens home of a controversial prosecutor following two anonymous telephoned warnings to the media and as Molotov Cocktails are routinely tossed at riot police during clashes.

Police have said they suspect far-left extremists were behind the blasts, and said they are on guard to prevent further attacks although no group has taken responsibility so far, the Wall Street Journal noted in a report indicating anxiety about a new wave of assaults.
Terrorism plagued Greece for decades after the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1974, when a military dictatorship fell and Nov. 17 was behind much of it before being disbanded ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

ON THE RISE

“We are very concerned about the way the government handles the issues of law and order,” said New Democracy lawmaker Vassilis Kikilias.

John Nomikos, Director of the Athens-based Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) and a US-trained counter-terrorism specialist, told TNH that, “Domestic terrorism is on rise in Greece for 2019, especially when time approaches the national election period wherever it happens.”

He added that, “It is enigmatic that explosives were outside a Greek church in the heart of Athens and the church authorities remain silent. The intent was to have a victim which could start social turmoil …  Greece is moving in uncharted waters.”

Police have said they suspect far-left extremists were behind the blasts, and said they are on guard to prevent further attacks although no group has taken responsibility so far, the Wall Street Journal noted in a report indicating anxiety about a new wave of assaults.

Terrorism plagued Greece for decades after the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1974, when a military dictatorship fell and Nov. 17 was behind much of it before being disbanded ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Greece’s more than 8 ½-year long economic and austerity crisis has refueled terror groups with many now operating and attacking with near-impunity as police have been unable to stop them.
“We are very concerned about the way the government handles the issues of law and order,” said New Democracy lawmaker Vassilis Kikilias.

Michaletos said the oddfellow government of SYRIZA and its junior coalition partner, the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic allegedly law-and-order Independent Greeks (ANEL) have fueled terrorism and anarchists by staying mostly silent, even over the church bomb although Tsipras did condemn the attack on SKAI – which his party is boycotting.

“Police and have forced into retirement a cadre of successful and experienced officers in anti-terrorism,” as well, said Michaletos.

“We have the following phenomena: Terrorism, urban extremism and organized crime increasing their clout in parallel. As a result we should expect more times of violence in the country,” he said.

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