Greece hit by twin bomb blasts

Saturday, May 15, 2010
By Paul Martin
May 15, 2010

BOMB blasts at a prison and a court rocked two Greek cities in less than 24 hours in a warning militants still pose a threat to the debt-stricken country battling a devastating economic crisis.
The blasts came as Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a landmark trip to Athens yesterday promising a “new era” in ties between the longtime rivals, but police ruled out any link between the visit and the attacks.

The twin attacks hit the country as the government faces widespread opposition to a harsh austerity program, and after it was thought police had recently dealt a fatal blow to a far-left extremist group active for nearly a decade.

Police blamed far-left militants for the first bomb, which exploded overnight outside an Athens high security prison. The blast, heard across the capital, injured one woman.

The second bomb went off in a basement bathroom in the main court building in Thessaloniki around midday and slightly injured a court employee, who is in hospital, said Manolis Lampsidis, head of the city’s local bar association.

“We all thought it was our usual Friday bomb prank,” said lawyer Haralambos Apostolidis. The court receives false bomb alerts every two weeks and had carried out a full evacuation as recently as January, staff said.

“The whole building shook,” he said. “I was heading out when I heard a cry and saw a man bleeding on the ground, and I helped take him to hospital.”

Television images showed dozens of people rushing out of the building, which houses several tribunals and was working normally when the blast detonated.

The blast blew a hole in the floor above, state television NET reported.

The court complex has a police guard of around 30 officers but visitors are rarely searched on arrival and no scanners are in place, a local judicial source said, adding that around 1,000 people were inside at the time.

The attacks came as the Greek government confronted widespread opposition to an austerity program needed to secure an European Union and the IMF bailout totalling 110 billion euros.

No immediate connection was made between the bombs and often violent protests of recent weeks against the government in Greece, while a police spokesman ruled out any link between the Thessaloniki blast and the arrival of Erdogan.

“There is no reason why this explosion should be linked to Erdogan’s visit. The target was a court building,” said the spokesman, Thanassis Kokkalakis.

The blasts marked the first major militant hits in Greece since the arrest in April of six alleged members of Revolutionary Struggle, which emerged in 2003 and whose attacks include a rocket strike against the US embassy in Athens.

Police linked the Athens blast to the far-left, saying that two out of six alleged members of Revolutionary Struggle and members of the November 17 group are being held in the targeted prison.

“There is a clear symbolism,” said a senior police source.

“We believe the attack was carried out either by those members of Revolutionary Struggle who are still at large or by other active groups like the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei or the Revolutionary Sect,” the source said.

“Our theory is that these groups are interlinked, with exchanges at the level of members, material and information,” the source added.

“It’s clearly a terrorist attack,” the source continued.

The bomb, hidden in a bag that was left in a bin, detonated late on Thursday night following tip-offs to a Greek newspaper and television station about 20 minutes before the explosion, enabling police to evacuate the area.

It contained about 12 kg of explosive and was detonated by a timer, police said.

The exact same newspaper and television station were warned about the Thessaloniki bomb but state television reported that there was not enough time to evacuate the building before the blast.

Bomb attacks by far-left groups are relatively common in Greece and are usually designed to avoid causing injury.

But in March, a young Afghan boy was killed and his mother and sister were hurt when a bomb exploded outside an
institute for training public officials.

Korydallos prison near Athens is currently holding the convicted members of Greece’s most notorious far-left group, November 17, which killed 23 people between 1975 and 2000 before its breakup in 2002.

Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei specialises in arson attacks against the offices and homes of politicians, while the Revolutionary Sect murdered an anti-terrorist officer in June, having surfaced after police fatally shot a 15-year-old boy in December 2008

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