Release of Greek Terrorists Heightens International Tensions

The Greek terrorist group known as November 17, or Revolutionary Organization 17 November, was fingered for the murders of 23 people in 103 separate attacks between 1975 and 2002. Now, a change in the Greek laws has resulted in the release of one member of the convicted terror group, and has opened the realistic possibility that more members may soon also see freedom. This has created outrage among Brits, Turks, and Americans in particular, as their citizens represented many of the targets and victims of November 17’s attacks.

The radical left-wing November 17 group arose in opposition to a military junta which ruled Greece between 1967 and 1975. As a likely election of left-leaning Greeks in 1967 loomed, the Greek military engaged in a coup under the leadership of Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos. With the support of NATO, the military overthrew the government, instituted martial law, outlawed strikes, banned labor unions, and countless other symbols that had become associated with the left, from the Beatles to long hair and mini-skirts. Naturally, this heavy-handed measure – an attempt to ward off any potential Communist invasion and regional sympathy for Communism – created serious resentment among many Greeks, especially those who would be inclined to embrace Communism.

Ultimately, the military junta would come to an end in 1974, when the military stepped down from power, inviting former prime minister Constantine Karamanlis to return from his self-imposed exile in Paris and restoring democracy.

Radical revolutionaries had emerged from the woodwork during the time of the junta, but were often crushed by the might of the military. Once democracy was restored, those groups had more leeway to air out their lingering resentments against the Greek government and the NATO allies who had assisted in implementing the junta. No group was more destructive than the November 17 movement, which named itself after the date in 1973, when an uprising of students in Athens Polytechnic University ended in a bloody crackdown by the military.

The November 17 group would go on to carry out a slew of attacks and other crimes between 1975 and 2002, including the murder of a CIA Station Chief and a US Navy Captain, the bombing of Greek tax offices, the theft of anti-tank rockets and bazookas, the assassination of a Greek politician, and virtually everything nefarious in between. The organization operated much like the IRA, targeting foreign officials but not sparing Greeks who would cooperate or ally themselves with those foreign presences.

Several member of November 17 would ultimately be convicted of murder and sentenced, in many cases, to multiple life sentences. In 2015, with the group seemingly stymied, November 17 was removed from the United States’ list of terror organizations. But little did they know at the time, the issue of November 17 was far from settled.

The issue would arise once again as the result of legislation passed under the left-leaning Syriza government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who was elected in September 2015. Known as a hard-left, unabashedly anti-capitalist party, Tsipras’ Syriza party has made no bones about taking stances that may engender criticism from the right, whether domestically or abroad. Though Tsipras himself is seen by many as one of the more sympathetic Greek leaders to Washington, D.C. in recent history, allowing the U.S. increasing access to Greek military bases, many in his party remain sympathetic to the far-left terror groups of the past, namely November 17.

Those sympathies, along with left-minded “solutions” to Greece’s persistent economic hardships, help explain the passage of a 2015 law abolishing high-security imprisonment and allowing for the early release of elderly or “disabled” convicts. That law has already resulted in the release of Dimitris Kufodinas, the former leader of November 17. He was convicted in 2003 for his association with the group’s leadership, and specifically the murder of several Turkish officials. But he now roams free, much to the ire of the Turks and the other nations whose citizens were put in the crosshairs of the November 17 assassins, including the U.S. and Britain.

Kufodinas falls into the “elderly” category – he’s 60. Now, two other November 17 terrorists, facing several life sentences, have applied for early release, and the U.S. is preemptively condemning any release that may be granted.

‘Savvas Xiros, a hit man in the former Greek terrorist group November 17 who is serving five life sentences for multiple murders and other crimes, has applied for early release on health grounds, using a law passed by the governing left-wing Syriza party.

Other November 17 killers—Dimitris Koufontinas, convicted of 11 murders, and Mr. Xiros’s brother Christodoulos Xiros, convicted of six murders—have been transferred from high-security prisons to open-air prisons on farms, making use of the same legislation.’ (Wall Street Journal)

The absurdity of the law is typified by Xiros, who is considered disabled. The reason he is disabled?

‘Mr. Xiros was arrested after one of November 17’s bombs exploded in his hands, leaving him deaf and almost blind.’ (WSJ)

While Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has named the United States as its most critical ally in the region, the underlying views of his party, which have resulted in the passage of legislation such as the law that has allowed a convicted terrorist to be freed and more to attain a serious shot at their own freedom, continue to rear their ugly head. The release of more convicted November 17 members will only heighten tensions between Greece and Turkey, which are already at odds over territorial squabbles involving Macedonia. And, with Greece’s need for allegiance with the U.S. considering the strained relations with Turkey, the release of Xiros is nothing but negative.

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