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Greek court convicts 15 November 17 members

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Thursday, December 11, 2003

ATHENS Greece has convicted the known leadership of its notorious terrorist organization that.

A special Greek court has convicted 15 members of the November 17 group, ending a nine-month trial that traced a 30-year-old insurgency campaign in the country. Those convicted included the leader of November 17 and its chief assassin.

November 17 claimed responsibility for the assassination of CIA station chief in Athens Richard Welch in 1975. November 17 had blamed the CIA for helping the military junta in Greece maintain power from 1967 to 1974.

Officials have increased security around Athens in wake of the verdicts out of concern over retaliatory insurgency attacks, Middle East Newsline reported. Unlike Greek officials, the U.S. intelligence community believes November 17 still operates cells in the country.

"Terrorism has received a decisive blow," Greek government spokesman Christos Protopapas said. "Greece is now viewed throughout the world as one of the safest countries, something very significant especially in light of the Olympic Games."

The three-judge panel convicted Alexandros Giotopoulos of 963 offenses.

Giotopoulos, a mathematician who denied any link to the Marxist group, was identified by the court as the leader of November 17 and the mastermind of numerous operations, including shootings and rocket strikes.

"Simitis's present day Greece is a modern U.S. colony," Giotopoulos said. "In the long run, all the blood-drenched struggles for national independence were sold out. The people long for something new, different, that cannot be controlled by major capital."

Another convicted defendant was Dimitris Koufodinas, a beekeeper known as "Poison Hand." He was identified as the chief assassin of November 17 and convicted of nine killings. The wife of Koufodinas as well as three others were acquitted.

Sentencing was expected on Wednesday. Greece, which also has a 20-year statute of limitation, does not have the death sentence.

November 17 has been held responsible for the killing of 23 people since 1975. They included the assassination of a CIA station chief and a British defense attache. Other victims included Turkish and U.S. diplomats as well as Greek politicians and businessmen.

For decades, Greece was unable to arrest or identify November 17 operatives. In June 2002, a November 17 agent was captured after a bomb he was preparing exploded prematurely. His arrest led to the capture of about 20 suspected operatives.

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