Greek government blames domestic terrorists for U.S. Embassy attack


Police officers close the avenue around the U.S. Embassy in Athens early Friday after an explosion inside the embassy compound.

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
Published: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 12:14 a.m.

A rocket struck the U.S. Embassy early Friday, exploding inside the modern, glass-fronted building and shattering hopes that Greece's leftist anti-American militant networks had been dismantled.

Greek authorities said the attack, which caused no injuries, was probably carried out by a domestic terrorist group.

The small anti-tank missile, fired from across a six-lane boulevard, narrowly missed the large blue-and-white U.S. seal on the embassy's facade and the ambassador's office, and pierced the building above the front entrance shortly before 6 a.m. It damaged a third-floor bathroom and shattered windows in nearby buildings.

"There were no injuries and very minimal damage," U.S. Ambassador Charles Ries said outside the embassy.

The attack recalled the anti-capitalist and anti-American violence of past decades, which included the death of a CIA station chief and other American military and embassy officials, as well as a failed bomb attack against the U.S. Embassy in 1996.

New militant groups vehemently oppose the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, amid widespread public opposition to Washington's policies which has remained strong since the United States provided support for a 1967-74 military dictatorship.

"It is very likely that this is the work of a domestic group," Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said. "We believe this effort to revive terrorism is deplorable and will not succeed."

He speculated that "this could be (guided) by the first generation of terrorists."

The 2.36-inch rocket, which police said was a weapon probably fired from a Russian-made launcher, struck a large marble beam on the third floor of the embassy, just above and to the left of the seal.

A military official in Washington said there was no reason to believe that the attack was al-Qaida-related. The official is not authorized to speak on the subject and requested anonymity. A U.S. intelligence official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, said there was no information that suggests a follow-up attack.

It was the first major attack against a U.S. target in Greece in more than a decade.

"We believe it is a symbolic act," Polydoras said. "It is an attempt to disrupt our country's international relations."

Polydoras said police were examining phone calls to a private security company claiming responsibility on behalf of a militant left-wing group called Revolutionary Struggle.

Revolutionary Struggle claimed responsibility for a May 2006 bomb attack on Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, in which nobody was injured.

Investigators were examining video from surveillance cameras and canvassing the neighborhood around the building, on a busy street near Athens' main concert hall. The government also said it was seeking permission from the courts to view traffic control camera videos, which are confidential under Greece's strict privacy laws.

Officials closed the embassy for the day.

Ries said there had been no warning of the attack, which he said came at a time when "the embassy had very few people in it."

"There can be no justification for such a senseless act of violence," he said. "We're treating it as a very serious attack."

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis visited the embassy afterward.

"I came here to express the solidarity of the Greek people following this deplorable action," she said.

"Such actions in the past have had a very heavy cost for the country. ... The Greek government is determined to undertake every effort to not allow such phenomena to be repeated in the future."

Polydoras said police would set up a task force on the attack, headed by a former counterterrorism chief who eradicated the far-left November 17 group in 2002. November 17 carried out a similar rocket attack against the embassy in 1996, causing minor damage and no injuries.

The group was blamed for killing 23 people _ including U.S., British and Turkish officials _ and dozens of bomb attacks.

In 2003, a special court gave multiple life sentences to November 17's leader, chief assassin and three other members. Lesser sentences were given to 10 others.

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