American Embassy inAthens Attacked

A rocket-propelled grenade struck the front of the American Embassy in Athens early today causing minimal damage. There were no casualties or injuries, according to U.S. Ambassador Charles Reis. Greek police sources indicated that the anti-tank shell blasted through a front window near the emblem, striking a marble beam, and exploding in a restroom shortly before 6am.

American Embassy prior to the attack
Police have labeled this a terrorist attack, reporting that a new leftist Greek militant group, Revolutionary Struggle, has claimed responsibility for it. Public Order Minister Polydoras indicated that authorities are investigating the veracity of their claim. Police are examining the authenticity of two calls claiming responsibility from the group Revolutionary Struggle, which has carried out six bombings since 2003, including an assassination attempt on Greece's Culture Minister last May and a bombing at the Economy Ministry that wounded two people and damaged buildings 13 months ago. The militant group has criticized the United States in previous statements, citing treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. It "remains the most active Greek terrorist organization," writes journalist Anthee Carassava for theInternational Herald Tribune," stating that it emerged in 2003 and is just one of a "string of copy-cat terror cells" which have followed in the wake of the notorious group November 17.

The dawn embassy strike was the first major attack against U.S. targets in Greece in more than a decade. In 1988 an American naval attache was assasinated; a rocket was fired at the embassy a few years later in 1996.

Anti-American sentiment has run high among certain segments of the Greek population about a number of U.S. policies, especially the war in Iraq, fueling lingering anger the last few decades over U.S. support for a military dictatorship in the early 1970's.

Nicholas Paphitis of the Associated Press reported that Vyron Polydoras, the public order minister, said that the attack was "very likely. . .the work of a domestic group." The minister believed that this effort to revive terrorism was "deplorable and. . .[would] not succeed. . . . It is a symbolic act, . . an attempt to disrupt our country's international relations." Polydoras told AP reporters that the police would set up a task force on the attack, headed by a former counterterrorism chief who crushed November 17.

In 2002 Greek police dismantled the Greek leftist group November 17, responsible for deadly attacks on foreign and domestic targets within Greece. In 2003 a special court handed down multiple life sentences to its leader, principal assassin and three other members. Ten others received lighter sentences, reported Paphitis.

Experts examining today's attack site believe that a 2.36-inch shell was likely fired from an extendable Russian-made launcher at street level, across a 6-lane boulevard, from an opposite building.Although the attack "resembled methods used by members of the far-left terrorist group November 17," writes Paphitis for the AP, the type of weapon "has not been seen in previous Greek attacks." The blast shattered windows and woke residents near theVasilissis Sofias Avenue location.

Greek security responded rapidly: dozens of police cars surrounded the embassy; hundreds of police cordoned off all roads in the area; helicopters hovered overhead. Greek anti-terrorist squads combed the area for additional evidence. Investigators were examining video from surveillance cameras and were seeking permission from the courts to view traffic control camera videos, according to journalist Paphitis.

Police authorities are seeking to explain how the attack penetrated one of the most heavily guarded district's of the capital. Security at the American embassy is tight. Guards cover every corner and entrance of the complex which is surrounded by a high steel fence.

Ambassador Ries said that there was no advance warning of the attack, which fell during a time when few people were present at the embassy. An intelligence official, speaking anonymously, added that there was no evidence to suggest any follow-up attacks.

Dora Bakoyannis
(Turkish Daily News image)

Secretary ofState Condoleeze Rice and officials at the Pentagon were notified of the attack, with no requests for additional action.

Senior Greek government officials soundly condemned the attack and rushed to the site to avert diplomatic fallout. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis visited the embassy to meet Ambassador Ries and to issue the following statement, reported by AP writerPaphitis: ``I came here to express the solidarity of the Greek people following this deplorable action. Such actions in the past have had a very heavy cost for the country. ... The Greek government is determined to undertake every effort to not allow such phenomena to be repeated in the future.'' Greek state television reported that she has promised Secretary Rice full cooperation in seeking the attacker.

Similarly, Greek Tourism Minister Fani Pall-Patralia denounced the attackers. In a statement to Bloomberg news, she wrote: ``Acts like today's are to be condemned. Greece is and will continue to be a safe country.'' Maria Petrakis reported that visits to Greece byU.S. tourists grew by 27 percent last year, with tourism providing about 15 percent of the country's domestic product. She cited figures from the Greek Institute for Tourism Research and the World Travel andTourismCouncil.

Greek government spokesperson,Theodoros Roussopoulos likewise issued a statement, ``The government, and the entire Greek people, condemn with abhorrence actions such as today's,'' emailiing it to Petrakis.

But members of the opposition strongly criticised the conservative Greek government over the attack, the third such strike on the embassy compound since the 1970's. Alekos Papadopoulos, spokesperson for the public order of the opposition Socialist Party asked how such an attack was possible when it was well known that the embassy was a prime target.

(Posting date 12 January 2007

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