ATHENS, Greece – Police charged a suspected leader of the elusive November 17 terrorist group with multiple counts of murder Friday, saying he had taken part in 13 killings -- including those of two American military officers and a British brigadier. Similar charges were lodged against a second member of the extreme leftist organization.
Paris-born Alexandros Giotopoulos, 58 and identified by police as the "ideological leader" of November 17, was charged with premeditated murder in the string of killings dating back to 1984.
Prosecutor Panagiotis Angelopoulos filed also filed murder charges against 48-year-old electrician Vassilis Tzortzatos for allegedly killing of eight Greeks, including businessmen, politicians and police officers.
Another man, retired printer Theologos Psaradelis, 55, was charged with two counts of armed robbery.
Earlier, Premier Costas Simitis said authorities had taken the first step toward wiping out domestic terrorism, and assured the public and the international community that the country would be made safe.
In charging Giotopoulos, the prosecutor accused him of active participation in all attacks allegedly committed by six other November 17 suspects in police custody. A new count included the 1984 killing of a police officer in a bank robbery, for which the group had never claimed responsibility.
Two brothers, both sons of a Greek Orthodox priest, were charged Thursday with bombings, bank robberies and assassinations -- including those of the American and British defense attaches.
The prosecutor, however, has not charged Giotopoulos for all 22 killings claimed by the ultra-leftist group, which emerged in 1975 with the slaying of Richard Welch, the CIA's station chief in Athens.
November 17's victims include four American officials, two Turkish diplomats and Greek businessmen and politicians, while it has also carried out dozens of bomb and rocket attacks. Its last victim was British defense attache, Brig. Stephen Saunders, shot dead in June 2000.
Authorities are still looking for a group of men believed to be in their 60s -- dubbed as the "grandfathers" by the Greek media -- who founded the organization in 1975 after the collapse of the 1967-74 military dictatorship. The group is named for the date in 1973 when the junta crushed a student uprising.
Giotopoulos was apparently stunned by the charges brought against him, court reporters said. He denied any participation in November 17 or any other terror group.
Police spokesman Lefteris Ekonomou said evidence found so far showed that Giotopoulos "indeed played a leading and instructive role" in November 17, and that his fingerprints were found on a November 17 proclamation discovered in one of the group's hide-outs. His handwriting also matched that of notes found in an apartment used by the terror group.
"This man was recognized by members of November 17 who have been arrested and confessed that he is the person known with the code name Lambros, and the leader of November 17," Ekonomou said.
Simitis told a nationally televised audience earlier that "the time has come for the guilty to answer for their acts."
The breakthrough against November 17 was a huge relief for Simitis' governing Socialist party, which for years had come under heavy international criticism for failing to crack down on domestic terrorism.
Much of that failure was blamed on an ineffectual and badly trained police force that was unable to take advantage of evidence left behind in dozens of attacks.
That changed a few years ago, when Greece had no choice but to improve the efficiency of its police after coming under increasing pressure to bolster security ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
"We made the first step because we worked with a plan. We worked for many years to set the foundations for today's developments," Simitis said.
Part of that plan was a joint program with the United States to train Greek police at FBI facilities in Quantico, Va. Nearly 100 officers are thought to have taken part.
Another turning point came in June 2000, when Scotland yard arrived to investigate Saunders' death. Scotland Yard brought in decades of experience with urban guerillas, while Greek police took advantage of their help to train officers in forensic work.
Simitis urged for patience, saying the eradication of terrorism will take time.
Charges brought Friday against Giotopoulos, included allegations of involvement in crimes for which three other men were charged on Thursday.
Police said Christodoulos Xiros, 44, has confessed to attacks including the bombing deaths of U.S. defense attache Capt. William Nordeen in June 1988 and Air Force Sgt. Ronald O. Stewart in March 1991.
His brother Vassilis Xiros, 30, confessed to participating in the 1997 killing of Greek-British businessman Constantinos Peratikos, the shooting death of Saunders, as well as several other attacks, police said.
Vassilis' friend Dionissis Georgiadis, 26, confessed to a bombing and a robbery that did not cause injuries, according to authorities.
Police first penetrated the group after a botched bombing on June 29 by another Xiros brother, religious icon painter Savas Xiros, 40. He remains hospitalized under police guard, but has not been formally arrested.
His injury eventually led police to two Athens apartments November 17 was using to store their weapons, including dozens of anti-tank rockets, explosives, Giotopoulos' fingerprints and a gun used in seven of the group's execution-style murders.