By Hannah Strange 02 Nov 2013
Greek authorities raise concerns over tit-for-tat violence following fatal shooting of two members of extreme right group
Counter-terrorism squad gather evidence at the shooting point outside of the local branch of ultra-right wing Golden Dawn party at the northern suburb of Neo Iraklio, after a drive-by shooting in Athens, Greece. Photo: EPA
Police in Greece believe Far Left terrorists may have been behind the murder of two members of the far-right Golden Dawn party, raising fears of tit-for-tat warfare between the country’s radical factions.
The Greek counter-terrorism squad has taken over the investigation into Friday night’s attack, when two assassins on a motorbike opened fire on men outside Golden Dawn’s offices in Athens. Police said they were looking at whether the murders may have been carried out in retaliation for the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist musician by a supporter of the neo-Nazi party in September, a killing which prompted angry protests across Greece.
Investigators were examining all avenues, but “particularly those that link these events to extremist groups” behind a string of far Left attacks in recent years on politicians, police, banks and the media.
A police official said the shooting, for which no one has claimed responsibility, appeared to be a “terrorist attack”.
Athens residents gathered at the site of the killings in the suburb of Neo Iraklio and laid flowers as politicians warned that the country, already mired in a deep financial crisis, was at risk of spiralling street violence.
People holding flowers and a Greek flag stand near the local offices of far-right Golden Dawn party, following last night's shooting, in a northern suburb of Athens.
“We cannot let this cycle of violence continue,” Makis Voridis, a senior lawmaker in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy party, told Greek television. “This must end here.”
“Twelve bullets against democracy,” top-selling daily Ta Nea wrote on its front page yesterday. “The double cold-blooded murder was a coarse provocation against stability.”
As well as Golden Dawn, Greece is home to far-Left and anarchist extremist groups who have claimed responsibility for a series of shootings and bombings in recent years. In 2009, a police officer was killed by three gunmen in Athens, and in 2010, a prominent investigative journalist, Sokratis Giolas, was shot dead at his home. Both killings were claimed by the Sect of Revolutionaries, a radical leftist organisation.
Following the killing of Mr Giolas, the Sect of Revolutionaries issued a direct threat to the Greek state, vowing to transform the country into “a war zone of revolutionary processes, with arson, sabotage, fierce demonstrations, bomb attacks, armed killings”.
“We are at war with your democracy”, the group declared.
Another extremist group, the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including a car bomb which exploded outside the home of the Athens prison director in June.
Greek media claimed that the weapon used in Friday’s attack was the same type of gun used in the 2009 police shooting. Police identified the gun as a Zastava Tokarev type semi-auto pistol from which 12 rounds were fired, but said it was not the same weapon used in previous terrorist incidents.
Golden Dawn has in recent years emerged from the fringe of Greek politics to establish itself as the country’s third most popular party, with 18 seats in parliament.
Its surge in popularity came as it capitalised on widespread anger over austerity measures and immigration in the debt-stricken nation, which has for the past six years been in severe recession. Some 60 per cent of Greek youth are now unemployed, further fuelling social unrest.
Friday’s attack “marked a continuation of political uncertainty and instability in the country,” said George Tzogopoulos, an analyst at an Athens-based think-tank.
Golden Dawn uses a Swastika-like emblem and has also been associated with attacks on immigrants. It insists it is not a neo-Nazi group.
But the Greek government announced a crackdown on the party following the murder in September of Pavlos Fyssas, a white anti-racist rapper, for which a Golden Dawn supporter has been arrested and charged. The party’s leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and two of its MPs have been imprisoned pending trial on charges of establishing a criminal group.
The Golden Dawn leadership denies government claims that it was involved in the musician’s killing.
In the wake of Friday’s attack, the Greek government has been under pressure to show that it takes violence against Golden Dawn members seriously.
“We will not allow our country to become a place to settle scores,”said Greece’s public order minister Nikos Dendias, expressing his “sadness at the death of the young men”.
The left-wing main opposition Syriza party also condemned the shootings. “This murder creates a climate of instability and targets democracy,” the party said. “It feeds fascism, it does not beat it,” added Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Syriza MP.
Golden Dawn also attributed the shooting to “terrorists” and blamed the Greek government for failing to protect the party amid the crackdown. It said it had asked for police protection at its offices after receiving threats but that it had recently been withdrawn.
“The criminals wanted to execute anybody outside the party offices,” it said in a statement. “Before they drove off, the terrorists shot again at the boys lying on the ground. They literally emptied their weapons on them.”
Golden Dawn lawmaker Nikos Michos said: “The terrorism of the left has once again shown its face, to stop the rise of Golden Dawn.”
The victims were named as Emmanuel Kapelonis and Giorgos Fountoulis, both in their twenties. A 29-year-old man who was wounded remained in hospital in a serious condition yesterday.
The mother of the injured man, named as Alexandros Gerontas, made a televised appeal to the Greek people to “overcome their differences” and to “stop the bloodshed”.
Golden Dawn had planned a meeting for Friday night at the office where the shooting took place.
A police source told AP said that footage from a nearby security camera confirmed the party’s accounts that the gunman started firing from 15 metres away and finished off his victims from point-blank range. The gunman fired at a fourth Golden Dawn member, who managed to escape unharmed.