Revolutionary Organization 17 November
A reproduction of '17 November' logo that appeared on their proclamations
|Leader(s)||Alexandros Giotopoulos, Dimitris Koufodinas|
|Motives||anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, pro-Marxism|
Revolutionary Organization 17 November (Greek: Επαναστατική Οργάνωση 17 Νοέμβρη, Epanastatiki Organosi dekaefta Noemvri), (also known as 17N) was a Marxist urban guerrilla organization (characterized as a terrorist group by the Greek state, United States, and the United Kingdom) formed in 1975 and believed to have been disbanded in 2002 after the arrest and trial of a number of its members. The group assassinated 23 people in 103 attacks on U.S., British, Turkish and Greek targets. They were named after the day of the 1973 Athens Polytechnic uprising against the military junta.
The group's name, 17N, refers to the final day of the 1973 Athens Polytechnic uprising, in which a protest against the Greek Military Junta (1967–1974), also known as the Regime of the Colonels took place. The uprising was bloodily suppressed by the army. In addition to assassinations, kidnappings, and symbolic attacks on corporate and government offices, 17N supported its operations with at least 11 bank robberies netting approximately US$ 3.5 million. Members of 17N kept detailed financial records, found in one of their safe houses in 2002, to document that the stolen money was used for revolutionary purposes.
17N's first attack, on 23 December 1975, was against the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's station chief in Athens, Richard Welch. Welch was gunned down outside his residence by four assailants, in front of his wife and driver. 17N's repeated claims of responsibility were ignored until December 1976, when it murdered the former intelligence chief of the Greek security police, Evangelos Mallios and left its proclamation at the scene. In January 1980 17N murdered Pantelis Petrou, the deputy director of the riot police (MAT) and his driver. It also intervened with two long proclamations offering theoretical guidance to the Greek armed struggle and criticizing a non-deadly rival group, Revolutionary Popular Struggle (ELA) for poor target selection and operational incompetence.
17N resumed its attacks in November 1983, killing the deputy chief of the U.S. military assistance mission (JUSMAGG) George Tsantes. In 1985 it broadened its targeting with the murder of conservative newspaper publisher Nikos Momferatos. The proclamation left near his body accused Momferatos of CIA connections and complained that Greece "remained a puppet regime in the hands of the American imperialists and the economic establishment." In 1986, 17N murdered Dimitris Angelopoulos, one of Greece's leading industrialists, charging that he and other members of Greece's "lumpen big bourgeoisie class" were plundering Greece at the expense of workers.
17N responded to the 1988 George Koskotas scandal with a wave of murders and kidnappings. In the 1989 parliamentary elections 17N urged voters to deface their ballots with the 17N star. The assassination of New Democracy member of parliament Pavlos Bakoyannis in September 1989 prompted public outrage, including among Greek communists who respected Bakoyannis as a courageous anti-Junta journalist. The group abandoned its electoral pretensions and took a more nationalist turn.
Other victims included Captain William Nordeen USN, the U.S. defense attache, whose car was destroyed by a car bomb a few meters from his residence on 28 June 1988, and U.S. Air Force Sergeant Ronald O. Stewart, who was killed by a remotely detonated bomb outside his apartment on 12 March 1991.
In addition to its anti-American and anti-capitalist agenda, the group was also opposed to Turkey and NATO. Çetin Görgü, Turkish press attaché, shot in his car on 7 October 1991; Ömer Haluk Sipahioğlu, Turkish embassy counselor, shot on an Athens street on 4 July 1994; ship and shipyard owner Constantinos Peratikos, shot leaving his office on 28 May 1997; and Brigadier Stephen Saunders on 8 June 2000.
17N used as its "signature weapons" two .45 M1911 semi-automatics. While face-to-face assassination was the early modus operandi, in 1985 the group exploded its first bomb, using a long cable to detonate stolen quarrying explosives, against a bus full of riot police, killing one.
In October 1986 17N bombed four tax offices. This was its first low-level attack against property. In December 1988 17N stole 114 obsolete anti-tank rockets from a poorly guarded Greek military depot. Between 1990 and 1999 17N conducted 24 rocket attacks, all but three of them aimed at property rather than human targets. In November 1990, a rocket attack against the armored limousine of shipowner Vardis Vardinogiannis failed. In 1991, 17N rocketed a riot police bus, killing one officer and wounding 14. In July 1992, a young passerby, Thanos Axarlian, was killed in a failed rocket attack on Economy Minister Ioannis Palaiokrassas.
After their inaugural attack on the CIA station chief, the group tried to get mainstream newspapers to publish their manifesto. Their first proclamation, claiming the murder of Richard Welch, was first sent to "Libération" in Paris, France. It was given to the publisher of "Libération" via the offices of Jean Paul Sartre, but was not published. After subsequent attacks, 17N usually sent a communique to the Eleftherotypia newspaper. The group argued in its communiques that it wanted to rid Greece of U.S. bases, to remove the Turkish military from Cyprus, and to sever Greece's ties to NATO and the European Union.
On 7 April 1998 the group used a stolen anti-armor rocket to attack a downtown branch of the American Citibank, which caused damage but no injuries, as the warhead did not explode. The rocket was fired by remote control from a private car parked outside the bank on Drossopoulou street in the downtown district of Kypseli.
A list of 17N's known murder and kidnapping victims:
- Richard Welch, CIA station chief in Athens. (23 December 1975)
- Evangelos Mallios, policeman who was accused of torturing political prisoners during the period of military junta. (14 December 1976)
- Pantelis Petrou, deputy commander of the Greek police Riot Control Unit (M.A.T.) (16 January 1980)
- Sotiris Stamoulis, driver of the above-mentioned. (16 January 1980)
- George Tsantes, a US Navy Captain, high level executive of JUSMAGG (15 November 1983)
- Nikos Veloutsos, driver of the above-mentioned. (15 November 1983)
- Robert Judd, Army Master Sergeant, Postal officer for JUSMAGG in Greece, wounded in an assassination attempt. (3 April 1984)
- Christos Matis, police guard, killed in a bank robbery. (24 December 1984)
- Nikos Momferatos, publisher of the "Apogevmatini" newspaper. (21 February 1985)
- Georgios Roussetis, driver of above-mentioned. (21 February 1985)
- Nikolaos Georgakopoulos, riot policeman, killed in bus bombing. (26 November 1985)
- Dimitrios Aggelopoulos, President of the board of Halyvourgiki S.A.. (8 April 1986)
- Zacharias Kapsalakis, doctor and clinic owner, shot in the legs. (4 February 1987)
- Alexander Athanasiadis, industrialist. (1 March 1988)
- William Nordeen, a US Navy Captain, killed by a car bomb. (23 June 1988)
- Constantinos Androulidakis, a public prosecutor, is shot in both legs and dies slowly of complications. (10 January 1989)
- Panayiotis Tarasouleas, also a public prosecutor, is shot in both legs. (18 January 1989)
- Giorgos Petsos, PASOK MP and Minister, is injured in his car by a car bomb. (8 May 1989)
- Pavlos Bakoyannis, New Democracy MP (26 September 1989)
- Ronald O. Stewart, a US Air Force Sergeant, killed by a bomb. (13 March 1991)
- Deniz Bulukbasi,Turkish Chargé d'Affaires, is injured by a car bomb. (16 July 1991)
- Çetin Görgü, Turkish Press attaché (7 October 1991)
- Yiannis Varis, a police officer, is killed in a missile and hand grenade attack against a riot squad bus (2 November 1991)
- Athanasios Axarlian, a student passer-by; killed by shrapnel during a rocket attack targeting the limousine of Finance Minister Ioannis Palaiokrassas. (14 July 1992)
- Eleftherios Papadimitriou, New Democracy party deputy and MP, is shot in both legs. (21 December 1992)
- Michael Vranopoulos, former governor of the National Bank of Greece. (24 January 1994)
- Omer Haluk Sipahioglu, counselor of the Turkish Embassy in Athens. (4 July 1994)
- Costis Peraticos, ship owner, owner of Eleusis Shipyards. (28 May 1997)
- Stephen Saunders, military attaché of the British Embassy in Athens. (15 June 2000)
On 29 June 2002 Greek authorities captured an injured suspect, Savvas Xiros, following a failed bombing attempt on the Minoan Flying Dolphins ferry company in Piraeus. A search of Xiros' person and interrogation led to the discovery of two safe houses and to the arrests of six more suspects, including two brothers of Savvas. A 58-year-old former mathematics student living underground since 1971, Alexandros Giotopoulos, was identified as the group leader and was arrested on 17 July 2002 on the island of Lipsi. On 5 September, Dimitris Koufodinas, identified as the group's chief of operations, surrendered to the authorities. In all, nineteen individuals were charged with some 2,500 offenses relating to the activities of N17.
The trial of the terrorist suspects commenced in Athens on 3 March 2003, with Christos Lambrou serving as the lead prosecutor for the Greek state. Because of the 20-year statute of limitations, crimes committed before 1984 (such as the killing of the CIA station chief) could not be tried by the court. On 8 December, fifteen of the accused, including A. Giotopoulos and D. Koufodinas, were found guilty; another four defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence. The convicted members were sentenced on 17 December 2003. All those convicted defendants appealed. On 3 May 2007, the convictions were upheld.
In early January 2014, Christodoulos Xyros, one of the imprisoned leaders of the organization, escaped from prison. On 6 January, he failed to report to the police after leaving prison under the condition to report to the police everyday, which he has done six times in 18 months.
Some Greek officials considered Revolutionary Struggle (EA), the group that fired a Chinese-made RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. Embassy in Athens in January 2007, to be a spin-off of 17N. However, three self-admitted EA members arrested in April 2010 claimed that they were anarchists—a designation 17N rejected in its proclamations. For many years, leading politicians of the right-wing New Democracy party, as well as the conservative press, falsely claimed that Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou was the mastermind behind 17N. Virginia Tsouderou, who became Deputy Foreign Minister in the Mitsotakis government, and journalist Giorgos Karatzaferis (later the founder and leader of a right-wing party, LAOS) claimed that terrorism in Greece was controlled by Papandreist officers of Hellenic National Intelligence Service (the Greek security and intelligence service), and named Kostas Tsimas (the head of EYP) and Colonel Alexakis as two of the supposed controllers of 17N. However, after 17N members were arrested, the only connection between the terrorist organization and PASOK was the fact that Dimitris Koufontinas was a member of PAMK (the PASOK high school students organization) and an admirer of Andreas Papandreou in his late teens.
Other writers have also claimed, without any evidence, that 17N may have been a tool of foreign secret services. In December 2005, Kleanthis Grivas published an article in To Proto Thema, a Greek Sunday newspaper, in which he accused "Sheepskin", the Greek branch of Gladio, NATO's stay-behind paramilitary organization during the Cold War, of the assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Athens in 1975, as well as of the assassination of Stephen Saunders in 2000. This was denied by the US State Department, who responded that "the Greek terrorist organization '17 November' was responsible for both assassinations", and asserted that Grivas's central piece of evidence had been a document ("Westmoreland Field Manual") which the State department, as well as a Congressional inquiry had dismissed as a Soviet forgery. It should be noted the documents make no specific mention of Greece, November 17th, nor Welch. The State Department also highlighted the fact that, in the case of Richard Welch, "Grivas bizarrely accuses the CIA of playing a role in the assassination of one of its own senior officials" as well as the Greek government's statements to the effect that the "stay behind" network had been dismantled in 1988.
- Press release, Greek Police (Greek)
- Foreign Terrorist Organizations, The National Counterterrorism Center
- http://www.ahistoryofgreece.com/press/november17terrorists.htm November 17 Terrorist Organization Chronology of Attacks
- Trademark Colt pistol is identified, Kathimerini, 18 July 2002.
- Giotopoulos the son of renowned Greek Trotskyite, Cyprus Mail, 20 July 2002.
- Athens News Agency: News in English (PM), 98-04-08
- Athens News Agency: News in English (PM), 8 April 1998
- Chronology of all November 17 attacks, Kathimerini 7 August 2002.
- Nov17 trial begins, Kathimerini, 3 March 2003.
- Deadly 17 November to end its life in prison, Kathimerini, 18 December 2003.
- No TV in 17N trial, Athens News Agency, 9 December 2005.
- Kunz, Didier (2007-05-05). "Le démantèlement du 17-N n’a pas mis fin au terrorisme en Grèce". Spyworld. Le Monde. Retrieved 2009-01-10.
- "Le chef d’un groupe terroriste condamné à perpétuité en appel". NouvelObs.com (in French). 2008-06-23. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
- "Greece fears return of left-wing terrorism". Deutsche Welle. 8 January 2014. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
- Letter from P. Roupa, N. Maziotis, K. Gournas, Athens.Indymedia.org, 29 April 2010.
- Alex Peter Schmid, Ronald D. Crelinsten, Western responses to terrorism, 1993
- Eleftheros Tipos, 13/12/1989
- Leventhal, Todd (2006-01-20). "Misinformation about "Gladio/Stay Behind" Networks Resurfaces". Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
- Constantine Buhayer, “The UK's Role in Boosting Greek Counter Terrorism Capabilities,” Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 September 2002.