US sees significant increase in Greek terrorism; militant groups spawned by 2008 riots

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Domestic terrorism increased "significantly" in Greece last year following riots in Dec. 2008 sparked by the fatal police shooting of a teenager, the U.S. State Department says in an annual report on terrorism.

Experts and law enforcement officials argue new terror groups appear to have broken with the past tradition of militancy in Greece and no longer claim to espouse any clear objectives or political ideology.

The U.S. report noted more than 430 "security incidents" — including incendiary attacks and those using explosives, guns and grenades — in 2009, more than those recorded any other year for the past two decades.

"Local extremists increasingly targeted businesses and Greek law enforcement, and there was an increasing use of infantry-style weaponry in terrorist attacks," said the State Department report, issued late Thursday.

While the document deals with last year, the issue of domestic terrorism came to the fore once more after one of the newer groups to emerge, which has dubbed itself Sect of Revolutionaries, claimed responsibility last week for gunning down a journalist outside his home in July.

The group issued a proclamation last week vowing to turn the country into a war zone and warning tourists that Greece was "no longer a safe haven of capitalism." It has pledged to kill police, businessmen, prison staff and journalists.

Sect of Revolutionaries emerged in the wake of the Dec. 2008 riots, carrying out gun and grenade attacks against an Athens police station in Jan. 2009 and a private TV station the following month. Although those caused no injuries, the group soon escalated their attacks, killing an anti-terrorism police officer guarding a witness in a terrorism trial in June 2009, and the journalist last month. Both were shot more than a dozen times and died on the spot.

While militant groups have been active in Greece for decades, previous organizations had sought to portray themselves as urban revolutionaries fighting for the oppressed, emerging from the resistance to the 1967-74 military dictatorship that left a legacy of deep-rooted mistrust of authority.

Greek authorities insist the group has a background of common crime rather than political violence. What has alarmed some analysts about Sect of Revolutionaries is their lack of any clear ideology and their propensity to kill.

Their latest proclamation — a rambling diatribe against society that doesn't seek to outline any particular cause or aim beyond causing bloodshed — is a clear break with those issued by previous groups who would put forward attempts at justifying political violence.

"The principles that these groups used to have has been completely overturned," said criminology professor Vassilis Karydis. Rather than trying to win over public opinion like their predecessors, they are contemptuous of it.

"That is also a new element. They don't care about consent," Karydis noted.

A Civil Protection Ministry official who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity in line with ministry policy pointed to "important developments" earlier this year, with the arrests in April of several people suspected of involvement in militant and anarchist groups, including six people charged with membership of Revolutionary Struggle, which fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. Embassy in 2007 and planted a powerful bomb blast outside the Athens Stock Exchange last September. They also planted a massive car bomb outside Citibank offices in Feb. 2009, but the device failed to explode.

Yet despite the arrests, authorities have found themselves battling increasingly deadly — and brazen — attacks.

A letter bomb killed a senior ministerial aide in June inside the heavily guarded Civil Protection ministry — which also houses the country's intelligence service — three months after a 15-year-old Afghan boy was killed and his 10-year-old sister was seriously wounded when they opened a bag containing a bomb planted outside a management institute in Athens. Authorities say they have not received any credible claim of responsibility for either bombing.