(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. and British governments expressed outrage Thursday at a decision by a Greek judicial council to allow a convicted left-wing terrorist serving 11 life sentences to take a two-day furlough – particularly as one of his comrades earlier absconded during a similar parole.
Dimitris Koufodinas of the notorious Marxist group Revolutionary Organization November 17 (N17) walked out the Korydallos Prison in the Athens port of Piraeus, expressing no remorse for crimes that include the murders of U.S. and British diplomats.
The Kathimerini daily quoted the terrorist’s lawyer, Ioanna Kourtovik, as saying his appeal for a two-day leave had been approved due to good behavior, but that his “philosophical and ideological beliefs” remained unchanged.
The paper also cited a government spokesman, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, as saying the law permitting such furloughs does not make expressing regret for crimes a prerequisite.
Koufodinas was sentenced to 11 life sentences in December 2003, at the end of a major trial in which 15 accused were convicted of crimes, including assassinations and car bombings over a period of almost three decades.
The terrorists threatened to kill Americans until U.S. military bases in Greece were closed. The victims include:
--CIA station chief in Athens, Richard Welch, shot dead in front of his home in Athens two days before Christmas, 1975;
--U.S. Navy Capt. George Tsantes, who was attached to the Joint U.S. Military Aid Group to Greece, shot dead in his car in November 1983, along with his Greek driver, Nikos Veloutsos;
--U.S. Navy Capt. William Nordeen, killed in a car bomb outside his Athens home in June 1988;
--U.S. Air Force Sgt. Ronald Stewart, who died of injuries sustained in bomb blast in March 1991; and
--British military attaché Stephen Saunders, shot dead in an ambush in June 2000.
Amid expressions of anger from some Greek political figures, U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said in a Twitter post, “I add my voice to those from across Greece’s political spectrum deploring prison council decision to release a convicted terrorist, murderer & N17 leader. Our democracies rest on independent judicial institutions, but today’s furlough dishonors the victims’ memory & their families.”
The British Ambassador, Kate Smith, said her government was “deeply disappointed over the decision to grant leave to a terrorist murderer and we share the pain that this decision inflicts on the families of the victims.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed concern that Koufodinas would abscond.
“In the past when some of these November 17th people who have been convicted of murder have been let out on furlough in the past, they’ve disappeared, so we obviously have some concerns about that,” she said.
Another of the convicted N17 terrorists, Christodoulos Xeros, was allowed to take leave from prison eight times over an 18-month period before he disappeared during one such break in early 2014. He was re-arrested almost a year later, in possession of a loaded firearm.
Revolutionary Organization November 17 was named for the date of a 1973 student uprising against the U.S.-supported military government then in power. Welch’s murder was believed to be its first.
The 2003 trial of the N17 terrorists followed a string of arrests the previous year that saw the group unravel. First designated as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the U.S. government in 1997, it was deemed defunct and delisted in 2015.
Left-wing terrorism continues to be a problem in Greece. A group called Revolutionary Struggle emerged during the N17 trial, detonating two bombs evidently placed to kill police officers. (One officer was wounded.)
Police suspected the new group comprised either sympathizers or members of N17 who had escaped the dragnet.
Revolutionary Struggle’s attacks since included the firing of a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. Embassy in January 2007. No-one was killed in the attack, which the group was reported to have described in a statement as “our answer to the criminal war against ‘terrorism’ that the U.S. has unleashed over the entire planet with the help of fellow-traveling states.”
The U.S. designated Revolutionary Struggle as an FTO in May 2009.
In 2012, a Revolutionary Struggle leader named Nikos Maziotis also managed to evade justice through a quirk of Greek law. Authorities were forced to free him after 18 months of pre-trial detention and he, too, disappeared.
Maziotis was at large for two years before being captured during a shoot-out with police in central Athens in July 2014.