The March 9 shootout between the two suspects and the crew of a police patrol car reminds one of the accidental explosion of a bomb in the hands of a 17 November terrorist, back in 2002, which quickly led to the arrest and interrogation of the fumbling "militant" and the partial unraveling of that terrorist organization.
Although the March 9 encounter has yet to produce similar results, authorities believe they have stumbled onto a lead that could pave the way to Greece's current two major terror groups, Revolutionary Struggle and the Sect of Revolutionaries.
Much has been written over the years about Greece's inability to effectively investigate terrorism and break its "native" terrorist cells. Whether it is political indecisiveness or poor police training or a general social "attitude" which precludes authorities from pursuing suspects to the very end remains a point of debate. Meantime, conditions "on the ground" haven't improved much overall despite "surges," like the 2004 Athens Olympic Games security operation and the operation to locate and arrest 17 November members.
The March 9 incident provides yet another opportunity to test the waters. Press reports are abuzz with claims that Foundas was linked to various violent anarchists suspected of robbing banks to feed terror groups with cash; and that he had used his daily unassuming personal behavior to shield a violent underground identity that put him at the center of terrorist acts, including some of the Revolutionary Struggle's spectacular strikes.
Although it is too early to assess the Foundas "connection," information so far seems to validate a theory popular with analysts that Greek terror groups share common logistics and operational structures and maintain a "personnel interface" that allows key "operatives" to act across group boundaries.
If such a theory proves correct, authorities could have a real break in their hands: one of the most cherished principles of terrorist organization is the maintenance of "dead box" structures, with members of even the same terror groups having no notion of superior "directing" echelons or "command" individuals, who operate from within a communication vacuum. If Foundas wasn't practicing such tight security, his patterns could be a goldmine of "actionable" intelligence.
If indeed Foundas ranged freely from within one organization into the next; visited younger terrorist cell members in their homes; joined terror shooters in opening fire on police stations; and got ready for the next big bang by going out and getting his hands dirty with stealing a car to make an improvised explosive device -- and, in the process, stumbling onto the guns of the police patrol -- his activities, acquaintances, travel logs, absences from work, and even family outings could provide a "mesh" that gradually divulges directions leading to his terror clan.
The real crux now is whether the Greek anti-terrorist squad would be able to exploit such an opportunity to drive straight through to the heart of the matter.
This is not a rhetorical question. Only recently press reports were lamenting the loss of vital information that left ongoing searches for terrorist suspects with nothing to go on. How this "loss" is explained remains... unexplained! Greek police are also notorious for in-house feuds and all-round inefficiencies that make focused, sophisticated inquiries difficult to maintain. At the very top, of course, there is always a political leadership unhappy with the idea of an investigation establishing culpability for left-wing "militants" and, even worse, of uncovering possible links between such "militants" and Greece's left-of-center political parties.
Foundas's demise accidentally lifted the tiny corner of a curtain concealing a violent milieu that Greek politicians continue to largely deny along with the need for "active measures" to go after people of any political persuasion who find nothing wrong with placing bombs in the middle of densely populated areas; who plot how to kill and don't hesitate to assassinate police; and who happily discharge military weapons and throw grenades in the middle of town.
This is no kid's play and Greek politicians better understand it -- even at this very late stage.
Unfortunately, deeply rooted in-capabilities of the Greek police cannot be corrected on the fly. Nor can a civilian leadership accustomed to club-footed "democratic processes" develop a proactive posture on pursuing terrorism overnight.
What can -- and should -- be done though is to at least preserve and protect investigative and evidenciary material with life-or-death dedication and leave no stone unturned in searching for the network that was apparently Foundas's underground "militant" home.
It is safe to assume that the March 9 incident interrupted, most likely, the preparation of yet another terrorist outrage. Foundas's death must have momentarily unnerved his comrades, used as they are to acting with the assumption of little real threat emerging from the security services. But there is little, if any, doubt that these comrades also rebound very quickly and could be under way right now to avenge their loss by triggering the terror strike that was interrupted by serendipity.
It is the job of those who make decisions in this country, however, to assume control from fate and make sure that the Foundases of Greece are prevented, at long last, from keeping this land at the very top of the list of countries with an untreated case of terrorismus.
Can they do that?
That is the question.