Athens bomb attack revives extremist fears

A bomb attack in Athens on two buses carrying riot police caused no injuries early on Friday, but sparked fears of a reinvigorated leftist radical scene after a pre-Olympics crackdown.

The remote-controlled bomb was placed at the railings by the side of a road and went off just after 7am local time when the buses drove by.

”The explosive device was set off … by cable and a switcher from an adjacent copse,” police said in a statement. No one was injured in the attack and there was no damage.

”The bomb was of relatively small force … it was a simple device,” a senior police official said, adding that those who triggered it must have been about 30m away.

According to media reports, initial findings suggest 1kg of dynamite exploded.

Greek government spokesperson Theodoros Roussopoulos said authorities ”will not allow anybody to deal a blow to the sense of security that citizens enjoy, it won’t accept provocations against democracy”.

The riot police officers were on their way to daily duties at the city’s high-security Korydallos prison, where 18 recently convicted members of the extremist groups November 17 and People’s Revolutionary Struggle (ELA) are serving sentences of up to life in jail.

Both urban guerrilla groups staged similar attacks against vans and buses carrying police officers — their traditional targets — in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a long, bloody campaign that also included the murders of 25 Greek and foreign officials.

Greece arrested November 17 and ELA members for the first time in 2002 and 2003 respectively, to boost security for the Athens August 2004 Olympics.

At those times, police claimed to have broken the groups’ operating cores. But low-level urban violence continued, with small-scale bombings and arson attacks.

Friday’s incident could be a step toward something more serious, according to observers.

”It’s worrying … we don’t know if it means new groups are assembling or if it’s just an expression of anger by radical circles,” a security expert said on condition of anonymity.

Mary Bossi, an expert on local extremist groups, said the incident was part of the emergence of a new radical scene.

”Gradually, the scene reorganises in the quest for a new leadership,” she said.

”The scene remained without leadership since parts of the two major organisations were arrested … The new groups that appeared since then have committed small, but frequent and gradually escalating attacks.

”It’s little pinches that are stepped up each time,” she said.

Three small bombs exploded outside an Athens police station in May, causing only slight damage. The attack was claimed by ”Revolutionary Struggle”, a previously unknown group, which also threatened wealthy foreigners and security officials visiting Greece for the Olympic Games.

A police officer was slightly injured in a bomb attack on Athens’s main court in September 2003, claimed by the same group.

In June, other Greek leftists claimed responsibility for a foiled attempt to bomb a showroom displaying British-made Rover cars as a protest against Britain’s part in organising security for the Olympics.

Contrary to some fears, no Greek or foreign extremist groups attacked the August 13 to 28 Games, which were protected by an unprecedented deployment of security forces.

Arson attacks, mostly against bank branches after closing hours, have multiplied since incarcerated November 17 and ELA members went on a hunger strike to protest conditions of their detention. — Sapa-AFP

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