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'Deadly blow' against terrorism as chief suspect surrenders
By Derek Gatopolous, Athens News
Authorities said the 45-year-old fugitive, Koufodinas - known as "Poison Hand" because of his deadly accuracy with a gun - took a taxi in torrential rain to police headquarters in central Athens around 2.30pm on September 5 and told a guard: "I am Dimitris Koufodinas, I want to turn myself in." He was wearing jeans, a black t-shirt, sunglasses and a baseball cap.
The stunning capitulation follows a two-month manhunt, the largest in Greek history, for the man believed to link the organisation's ageing founders to its gunmen. He has already been charged in absentia with more than 100 offences, including 17 murders. His alleged victims include British military attache Stephen Saunders, two US military officials and two Turkish diplomats.
"[I] assume political responsibility of all the actions of November 17," Koufodinas said in a statement read out by his lawyer, Ioanna Kourtovik. "[I] deny my guilt in actions as they are described in the indictment. [My] life has been guided by the belief in building a revolutionary movement and the vision of a socialist society." Kourtovik said she had been contacted by Koufodinas shortly before his surrender. "He appeared on his own free will to take responsibility for his actions," she said. "I do not know where he had been [hiding]. Many of the details given in the press about his whereabouts were wrong." Government officials, who feared 17N fugitives could regroup before the 2004 Olympics, appeared relieved at the news.
"Koufodinas' arrest is very significant," deputy parliament speaker Costas Geitonas said. "This has dealt a deadly blow to terrorism in this country." It was the second major arrest following the capture on July 17 of Alexandros Yiotopoulos, the alleged 17N leader, and brings the total number of suspects in custody to 16.
In the hours following his surrender, police gave no details of where they believed Koufodinas had been hiding, but the government strongly denied there had been any negotiations.
There was also no immediate information on whether Koufodinas may have been involved in the theft of weapons from an army base on the island of Kos a month ago and statements published in the Greek news media that threatened renewed attacks.
"His arrest was matter of time. He surrendered to police, apparently to protect those who had been sheltering him," government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. "His fingerprints were taken and he was identified as Koufodinas. There was no negotiation with the government or contact with him." Moments before Koufodinas' appearance, Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis visited Premier Costas Simitis to brief him on the developments in the terrorism investigation.
Police believe the fugitive was the self-declared far-left group's chief recruiter and acted as treasurer for money seized in over a dozen armed robberies of banks, post offices and cash delivery vans. He may also provide valuable clues to 17N's purported ties with overseas terror groups and Greece's militant Revolutionary Popular Struggle (ELA), which disbanded in 1995.