Greek terror suspects charged as newspaper says they planned NATO attack
Sunday, July 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Greek authorities on Sunday charged two alleged members of the November 17 terror organization in the assassination of American and British servicemen, and a newspaper reported the deadly urban guerrilla group planned to attack U.S. and NATO peacekeepers.
Police also arrested a 10th alleged group member in northern Greece Sunday as they continued dismantling an organization that killed four U.S. military officials and 19 other people in 27 years. Thomas Serifis, 36, who worked for the Athens public bus company, was being questioned.
A magistrate on Sunday also arraigned three of the first suspected November 17 terrorists arrested after police achieved their first breakthrough against the group in 27 years after a botched June 29 bombing.
That trio included two brothers, who confessed to nine of the 23 killings attributed to November 17, and a family friend charged with a bombing and robbery. A third brother, injured in the failed bombing, remains hospitalized under police guard.
The Athens daily newspaper Eleftherotypia reported Sunday that the wave of arrests had foiled a plot by November 17 to attack a convoy of NATO peacekeepers driving from the northern port of Thessaloniki to Macedonia and Kosovo.
NATO has more than 30,000 troops in Kosovo, including about 5,000 U.S. soldiers. The force, known as KFOR, uses Thessaloniki as a logistical base.
The paper did not say when November 17 planned to carry out the attack, and police would not comment on the report. The paper said some of those arrested told police about the plot and that evidence was found at one of the November 17 hideouts.
The ambush reportedly was planned for a convoy using a highway leading to the Macedonian border. In informal conversations with police, November 17 suspects said they scouted the highway and found locations ``where they planned to strike American forces with rockets and car bombs,'' Eleftherotypia reported.
``Officials of the anti-terrorist police were left speechless listening to people being held as members of November 17 developing the nightmarish scenario of war,'' Eleftherotypia reported.
Those arrested so far include an alleged leader of the extreme left-wing group, which bombed, assassinated and robbed with impunity for 27 years. Police still are searching for other members, believed to number a few dozen.
Authorities believe they now are close to dismantling the group, which eluded Greek, American and British authorities since 1975 after killing the CIA station chief in Athens, Richard Welch.
The rabidly anti-American group used guns, bombs and anti-tank rockets to kill _ including two Turkish diplomats and Greek businessmen and politicians.
The two suspects charged Sunday were Iraklis Kostaris and Costas Karatsolis, two 36-year-old real estate agents. Kostaris was charged with participating in four killings, including that of U.S. Air Force Sgt. Ronald O. Stewart in March 1991 and British defense attache Brig. Stephen Saunders in June 2000.
Karatsolis, a close friend, was charged with carrying out three armed robberies and participating in the theft of dozens of anti-tank rockets from an army base in central Greece in 1989.
They were arrested in northern Greece over the weekend.
The three men arraigned Sunday were Christodoulos Xiros, 44, who police say confessed to nine killings, including those of Stewart and U.S. defense attache Capt. William Nordeen.
His brother, Vassilis, 30, has confessed to two assassinations, including Britain's Saunders, and a string of attacks and robberies.
Both are charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder, causing explosions, armed robbery and forming a criminal organization. They face life in prison. Greece does not have the death penalty.
Police say Vassilis Xiros' friend, 26-year-old Dionissis Georgiadis, has confessed to participating in a bombing and a robbery.
Of the others in custody, Alexandros Giotopoulos, 58, is believed to be a group leader. He denies involvement but has been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.
Another Xiros brother, 40-year-old Savas, remains hospitalized under police guard after being injured in the botched bombing.
His injury provided the clues leading police to alleged November 17 weapons caches and hide-outs. Savas Xiros has not been arrested or charged, but he is believed to have been one of the group's hit men.