A Small Family Business
The arrests and confessions reveal how closely knit the organisation was. Three of the members are brothers; two are cousins; one was godfather to the other's children. Blood bonds, so important in Greece, were used to reinforcetrust and silence. Shared guilt sealed this solidarity.
BY JOHN PSAROPOULOS, Athens News
It has been a week of heady developments on the counter-terrorism front. No fewer than seven new suspected members of November 17 were arrested and charged, bringing the total to eleven, with another arrest unconfirmed on July 25.
Importantly, two of those arrested, Alexandros Yiotopoulos and Pavlos Serifis, are implicated in crimes going back to the organisation's beginnings, indicating that police are working on uncovering its roots.
Astoundingly, the confessions of several of those arrested leaked to five major national dailies simultaneously on July 23. The leak seems too orchestrated to have come from anyone but the police or the prosecutor's office. A probable motive would be to reinforce the perception of the suspects' guilt to a sceptical public. We excerpt those confessions this week (pages 6-8).
The arrests and confessions - assuming they are genuine - reveal how closely knit the organisation was. Three of the members are brothers; two are cousins; one was godfather to the other's children. Blood bonds, so important in Greece, were used to reinforce trust and silence. Shared guilt sealed this solidarity.
November 17's anonymity for so many years is thus partly explained by kinship, small operational size and the rarity of its strikes. But the group also followed tight security procedures.
Members describe how they were given weapons for a strike, which were collected again afterwards. They say they frequently did not know which other members were involved in a strike, or the full extent of the operation. For instance Christodoulos Xiros says he did not know Vassilis Tzortzatos was the lookout man at Momferratos' assassination. Vassilis Tzortzatos did not know who pulled the trigger against Petsos. Konstantinos Karatsolis noticed that Savvas Xiros and Dimitris Koufodinas had already scouted out the army base of Sykourio before taking him along for the break-in. Sometimes members say they did not know whom they were killing. While some of the innocence may be feigned, it is unlikely to be the case throughout.
If the confessions made to police are on the whole accurate and truthful, the seniority of those captured so far is pretty low. The only men who appear to have had a panoramic view of the organisation were "Lambros" (Alexandros Yiotopoulos) and "Loukas" (Dimitris Koufodinas). The first appears in the narratives as a distant character, saying little and rarely taking part in operations. The second appears as the hands-on executive organiser of every strike, the liaison with the hitmen.
What the confessions do not make clear is how the targets were decided. Sometimes the order comes down from above. Vassilis Tzortzatos says that Loukas "announced" plans to burgle the War Museum and Sykourio army camp.
Sometimes the order comes from above but seems to be subject to discussion, perhaps even veto, by members. In 1984, Christodoulos Xiros says, "Lambros and Loukas proposed to the rest of us to strike an American, human target. The proposal was accepted by all". In 1985, he says, "Lambros proposed to the other members of the group the newspaper publisher Momferratos, which we all accepted."
At other times, members of the gang seem to decide targets whimsically amongst themselves. "Loukas, Alekos and I had a meeting about executing the crooked doctor Kapsalakis... " Tzortzatos says at one point.
At other times the confessors are simply vague, using phrases like "we decided", "the organisation decided", "it was decided". Were hits open to discussion? Could anyone propose a target? Could a member abstain from a strike? If anything emerges with consistency, it is that the names of Loukas and Lambros are either singly or together almost always associated with the 'proposals' to kill somebody. But there is plenty of ambiguity for the other defendants' lawyers to make a case in court.
(Posted 23 January 2003. Reproduced with permission.)
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