Terror suspect admits responsibility
Wednesday, March 5, 2003
ATHENS, Greece -- The alleged chief hit man of Greece's deadliest terrorist group accepted "political responsibility" Tuesday for a spree of killings and bombings that spanned nearly three decades.
"I assume political responsibility for every action," Dimitris Koufodinas, charged with taking part in 16 killings by the group November 17, told the court.
Koufodinas, 45, however, refused to recognize the court's jurisdiction. "This is a political trial," he said.
The group's alleged leader, French-born academic Alexandros Giotopoulos, and the other suspects denied all the charges in a 2,000-count indictment read aloud in court. It took the lead prosecutor nearly six hours to read the charges against the 18 men and one woman.
November 17 is suspected in the 1975 killing of the CIA station chief in Athens, Richard Welch. Others allegedly killed by the group include three American envoys, two Turkish diplomats and prominent Greek business and political figures. Its latest killing was the ambush of a British defense attache in June 2000.
For more than a generation, authorities were unable to make any headway against the group. But a botched bombing last year led to a series of arrests.
If convicted, the suspects face life in prison under anti-terrorism laws bolstered before the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Defendants are expected to submit a flurry of objections. They include challenging the legitimacy of the court and the anti-terrorism law used to bring them to trial.
"There will be an avalanche of objections," Giotopoulos, 59, told reporters in the court.
He denied any involvement in the group and told the court he was being prosecuted for his actions against the 1967-74 military dictatorship, which was backed by Washington as a buffer against communism.
"I deny all charges. I am here because the Americans want me to be. The charges are a cheap joint Anglo-American construction," Giotopoulos said.
Although some of the suspects claim their crimes are political, the socialist government has branded them common criminals.
Not all the bloodshed claimed by November 17 will be addressed by the court. The 20-year statute of limitations has run out on some charges -- including the slayings of the CIA station chief and two Greek police officials.
One of the oldest cases to be tried -- the 1983 shooting of U.S. Navy Capt. George Tsantes and his Greek driver -- has Giotopoulos as the lone suspect charged.
"Murder is murder ... Political differences in a democratic society are resolved through dialogue and elections ... You do not murder innocent people in the streets," his daughter, Stephanie Tsantes, told the Athens daily Eleftherotypia.
Under Greek law, victims and their families can petition to have lawyers question defendants. At least 45 foreigners -- more than half Americans -- are expected to use the right.
The group takes its name from a 1973 student-led uprising that was crushed by Greece's military leaders. Over the years, November 17 slowly melded a strict Marxist ideology with shrill nationalism.