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Arrests Made in Greece

Olympics: Police say they have seven members of notorious terror group in custody, a key step in securing 2004 Games.


With about two years to go before the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, Greek authorities announced Thursday a "great success" in penetrating the elusive terrorist group 17 November, saying they had captured a reputed leader of the radical leftist cell and secured confessions from others to a variety of attacks.

In all, Athens Police Chief Fotis Nassiakos told a news conference, seven alleged group members were in custody, the first arrests since 17 November surfaced 27 years ago with the killing of Athens CIA station chief Richard Welch.

The group, which is called N17 in security circles, has since claimed credit for nearly two dozen killings, including four Americans. Also claimed among its victims: Dimitrios Angelopoulos, an elderly Greek industrialist assassinated on an Athens street in 1986. His nephew's wife, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, now heads the Athens 2004 organizing committee. N17's most recent victim was the British defense attache, Brig. Stephen Saunders, shot four times in his car near Athens' Olympic Stadium in June 2000.

Olympic officials, the U.S. State Department and experts on Greek affairs expressed hope that developments in Athens had indeed marked a breakthrough--both in rooting out N17 and securing the Olympics, which begin Aug. 13, 2004.

"We have to be careful not to be overly optimistic," said Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer and International Olympic Committee member who serves as the chief IOC liaison to the 2004 Games. "But it's a good indication. I can definitely support, definitely use the words 'cautious optimism.' "

Wayne Merry, a former U.S. diplomat in Athens who has been sharply critical of Greek authorities over the years for failing to make more progress in penetrating N17, said, "As of today, I am reasonably optimistic."

Merry, now senior associate at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, added, "What we have now is very positive results from real police work, though much of the police work was British rather than Greek. True. What remains to be seen is what the Greek prosecutors and courts, who in the past have been very lenient toward terrorist suspects, will do."

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki could not be reached for comment. Speaking Wednesday in Athens with the editor who heads USA Today's Olympic coverage, she said, "Our priority is to create this security so that [Olympic visitors] can walk under the Acropolis, on the beaches, at volleyball or track and field. I am very proud of the progress being made."

Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., Greek authorities had said they planned to spend about $600 million on security for the Games. Now some insiders say the tab may approach $1 billion.

The break in the case came with the June 29 arrest of Savas Xiros, a 40-year-old religious icon painter. He was taken into custody after being severely injured, allegedly when a bomb he was carrying exploded.

Xiros' arrest and the widespread publication of his photo in Greek newspapers yielded clues that led police to raid two N17 hideouts, where police found a stash of weaponry.

Two of Xiros' brothers were then arrested. Christodoulos Xiros, 44, reportedly has confessed to involvement in attacks that led to nine deaths from 1984 to 1992, including two U.S. military officials. Vassilis Xiros, 30, reportedly confessed to taking part in the shooting death of Saunders, as well as other attacks.

In one hideout, police also found the fingerprints of Alexandros Giotopoulos, 58. Living under the assumed name of Michaelis Economou, he was arrested Wednesday on a hydrofoil as he made ready to leave the Aegean island of Lipsi, where he has a home. Authorities allege he is N17's chief philosopher.

N17 takes its name from the date in 1973 that the military junta then ruling Greece crushed a student uprising. The group for years expressed a vehement anti-American philosophy.

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