Greek authorities, benefiting from an incident similar to the one that led police to discover the 17 November terrorist gang in 2002, have swiftly rounded up six suspects who belong, police say, to the "new generation" of Greek terrorists.The arrests came in the wake of a shootout in early March which resulted in the killing by police of a suspected terrorist, Lambros Foundas. An investigation of Foundas's unobtrusive but, as it turned out, quite busy underground past and present did yield enough leads to guide the anti-terrorist squad, authorities claim, directly to 17 November's successor terror gang, Revolutionary Struggle.
Active since 2003, Revolutionary Struggle moved quickly beyond what "old" Greek terrorist were able or willing to do. For the first time in Greek domestic terrorism annals, large ANFO bombs exploded in the middle of Athens causing serious damage but thankfully no casualties. Revolutionary Struggle fired military rifles at police with complete abandon. In January 2007, a Revolutionary Struggle "stick" launched an anti-tank rocket at the American embassy in Athens -- causing little damage but establishing strong symbolic credentials with Greek and foreign security and intelligence agencies.
The current arrests revealed, yet again, "revolutionary militants" belonging to the "lower classes," just like in the case of 17 November whose "operatives" came from unremarkable, even wretched down-and-out, backgrounds. Revolutionary Struggle's alleged gang leader, Nikos Maziotis, an old acquaintance of the police, began his "career" as an unemployed construction worker and, later, joined the "armed struggle" by attempting to bomb the Development ministry. He was though quickly exonerated by a court which, in time-tested judicial Greek tradition, labored to find reasons to send this "misguided youth" on his way back to open "democratic" society instead of locking him up and throwing away the key, just to make sure. As it turns out, Maziotis apparently wasted no time in utilizing his renewed freedom in joining the "armed struggle" again.
As the investigation continues to unfold, there are disturbing patterns that come to the surface -- which are all tied to the well established inability of Greek security forces to pursue counter-terror ops on the basis of a focused strategy and effective investigative methods that can produce results without the need of chance encounters with terrorists, who have fumbled the ball and literally stumbled onto the police.
Press reports, for example, claim that Maziotis was under "close surveillance" ever since he was freed by the court in 2001, which surveillance, however, failed to spot his terrorist activities like presiding over the putting together of ANFO bombs. The same reports have also claimed that Maziotis's surveillance was interrupted in 2008 because government ministers actually felt they could negotiate a "truce" between anarchists devastating downtown Athens and the government via Maziotis's "good offices"...! Remarkable.
Police apparently had spotted other suspicious activities that seemed to involve the suspects now in custody but there was no effort to connect the dots. Reports have maintained that Revolutionary Struggle must have kept contacts with armed robbers and kidnappers in order to obtain cash and finance its activities. Some of these criminals are already imprisoned but, again, there seems to have been little crosschecking and referencing of their criminal actions and the company they could have kept.
The more the investigation into Revolutionary Struggle progresses, the more it becomes apparent that the "new" Greek terrorists will be a tough lot to crack. Cynical, monomaniac, and obviously without any real scruples, emptily smiling into the camera as they are transferred in irons, Maziotis and the sample suspects point to an underground violent sub-culture, spread throughout Greece, that the Greek state appears unable, and sometimes unwilling, to effectively suppress.
The "new" terrorists appear constantly several steps ahead of their pursuers. They use modern communication technologies with great ease, find sources of weaponry unimagined by the 17 November generation, and deploy with great flexibility and access to logistics by utilizing tactics of "fish" in the "sea" of the Greek anarchist violent underworld. Leaked intelligence reports also appear to suggest that Greek would-be "liberation militants" take short "vacations" in the Middle East to connect with Arab terrorists to learn secrets of the trade from guaranteed trainers.
Greece's grander "new" terrorism scheme, therefore, appears a lot more complicated and agile than what Greek authorities are ready to admit. To make things worse, Greek politicians are not prepared to recognize that domestic terrorism is not only recurrent but, also, quite capable of reinventing itself by properly adjusting to the tactical and macro-political environment much faster than the police. It was, for example, only a short eight years ago that the current minister for "citizen's protection" was declaring Greek domestic terrorism dead and buried in the wake of the 17 November arrests. Events in the last few days have totally discredited such ill-conceived and glaringly mistaken words.
For all the various misgivings and obvious gaps in Greek counter-terror efforts, neutralizing Revolutionary Struggle, even by chance, is an important step in the right direction. Hopefully, men in positions of security policy making will draw the right lessons from the experience. Less hopefully, and if Greece's long past of botched strategies and unexplained inactivity is any indicator, other gangs could be already rushing to succeed Revolutionary Struggle.