During the first nine months of 2016, a clear trend regarding the rise of urban violence and extremism has been observed in Greece and, in particular, in Athens. Protests over economic woes, illegal migration, and football hooliganism, coupled with the spread of political extremists and criminal gangs largely account for this phenomenon.

Following the present analysis is a chronological set of important incidents of Greek urban violence from January through September 2016.

Left-wing Violence follows Predictable Pattern

All available information indicates that most of these security events are associated with a “hard nucleus” of 100 or so anarchists from several member groups (with lots of subgroups, there are about 80 anarchist groups in Athens alone).

These ideologically-driven individuals can count on additional support from roughly 300 migrant activist elements, at least 50% of those foreigners. An emerging trend is the use of teenage Syrians who are placed in various sit-ins in the center of Athens, mainly in the anarchist-friendly Exarcheia neighborhood. It is not known if they are taken advantage of by the anarchist factions (for their own purposes) or if they are simply ideologically motivated.

Historically, the anarchists have tended to attack whichever target is ‘easy.’ This brings them publicity, keeping them visible in the media (and social media), and helps construct the the image that they control parts of the city. It is also highly probable that at least some collaborate with criminals for joint profit.

The below chronology indicates that the PASOK political party was targeted. However, this is simply because it is an ‘easy target,’ with locations in Exarcheia- not because of its party policies.

The data correlates with a perceived trend that today’s anarchists (including those associated with the pro-migrant cause) are not interested, or possibly not capable of, carrying out targeted attacks against high-profile individuals who are guilty in their minds of hypocrisy or acting against their values. Thus it seems the ‘golden age’ of Greek urban combat (as with long-disbanded groups like ELA and 17 November, which attacked Greek politicians, businessmen and foreign officials) is over.

Greek Urban Violence Relating to Football Hooligans

Football hooliganism is another chronic problem found in many countries. In Greece today, supporters of the major teams are engaged in a bitter fight – especially Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK and Thessaloniki’s PAOK – over a scandal regarding the fixing of football matches that was examined by prosecutors in April 2015.

This issue has been discussed in media. According to reports, the Greek National Intelligence Service even lent its wiretapping services to investigating the case from 2011 onwards. Top football bosses and other related persons were suspected of running a scheme to control Greek football in order to make illegal profits. The investigation has angered rival bases and also resulted in opaque bombings and threats against whistleblowers. The simmering unrest has also resulted in a beefed-up police presence at matches.

2016 Statistics and Trends: Crime Increases, Largely in Athens

Official figures indicate that public demonstrations in 2016 have increased by 100% compared to the previous year. In the first six months of the year alone, there were 4,220 demonstrations across the country, most of them concerning the country’s economic state or migration.

Armed robberies in Greece also increased by 11% in 2016 and violent thefts by 10%. Bag snatching increased by 50% and pickpocketing increased by 10%. And the theft of tourist passports shot up by 15% over last year.

In addition, vehicle theft increased by 9%, and house burglaries by 3%. The bulk of the crime rate increase is most notable in Athens, and less so in other part of the country.

Increases in Drug-related Arrests

At the same time, police forces have increased stop-and-search operations and have enacted a series of nationwide operations, resulting in more than 100 arrests daily for drug offences in a few cases. Despite a series of crackdowns, the drug flow is steady in the country for all sorts of narcotics- a fact which implies that the trade is becoming fragmented and new “criminal blood” has entered this sector.

There are also being witnessed numerous arrests of Syrian refugees who have already become dealers of mostly cannabis, not only inside the refugee camps but across urban spaces. In most cases known to police, they are being recruited by older generation of Arabic immigrants already living in the country.

An Impending Winter Crime Wave?

All indicators at hand suggest an emerging trend of a “crime wave” that will affect Athens in the winter of 2016-2017. The last time that a similar phenomenon took place was in 2011-2012, during a period of intense political infighting and economic destabilization.

This period ahead will inevitably include masses of immigrants/refugees located in camps who are gradually becoming involved in criminal activities, and may even be inclined towards religious radicalization. The convergence of interests between anarchists and migrant activists, as discussed by Balkanalysis.com last December, also continues and in some recent cases of fires and destruction (mostly concerning migrant camps in the islands) there is a strong likelihood that leftist forces supported these actions.

January-September 2016: Chronology of Urban Violence in Athens

January
10th Jan. A riot erupts between football hooligans of the teams Olympiacos and AEK
16th Jan. Anarchists attack police officers in Exarcheia in Athens
21st Jan. Football hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team
22nd Jan. Hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team
27th Jan. Hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team
28th Jan. Riot occurs between anarchists and far-right members in the center of Athens
30th Jan. Anarchists attack the private residence of the minister of state

February
5th Feb. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices
7th Feb. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices
10th Feb. Hooligan fights concerning Panathinaikos team
12th Feb. Farmers protest and clash with police
19th Feb. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices
23rd Feb. Hooligan fights in center of Athens
24th Feb. Anarchists attack state TV offices
25th Feb. Hooligans from Olympiacos team attack police patrols

March
5th Mar. Anarchists protest in Exarcheia and openly display rifles and pistols
12th Mar. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at PASOK party offices
13th Mar. Anarchists attack urban railway in center of Athens
16th Mar. Anarchists stage riot inside Hilton hotel in Athens
21st Mar. Anarchists publish online personal data and names of traffic inspector personnel, threatening them
24th Mar. Unknown assailants throw fire bombs at police station in Athens

April
2nd Apr. Football hooligans riot in center of Athens
18th Apr. Anarchists attack offices of weekly newspaper
16th Apr. Unknown assailants damage property of traffic inspector personnel (see event 21st March)
22th Apr. Anarchists attack urban railway in Athens
22th Apr. Anarchists attack Police patrol
23rd Apr. Anarchist attack a supermarket in Athens suburb
23rd Anarchists attack bank office
24th Apr. Anarchist attack the police station in Exarcheia
24th Apr. Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens
26th Apr. Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens

May
8th May Attack with fire bombs on PASOK offices
8th May Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens
21st May Anarchist arson attack on public transport vehicle
22nd May Anarchists attack police patrol
25th May Football hooligans riot in a suburb of Athens
30th May Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens
30th May Anarchist arson attack on public transport vehicle

June
1st June Anarchists attack police patrol
5th June Anarchists attack the residence of the minister of state
6th June Football hooligans clash in the outskirts of Athens
15th June Anarchists attack an Athens high court
16th June Anarchists arson public transport vehicle
17th June Attack with fire bombs on PASOK offices
18th June Anarchists attack urban railway station
22th June Anarchists damage public statues in Athens
25th June Anarchists attack various shops and buildings in center of Athens
25th June Anarchists destroy a military vehicle
29th June Anarchists storm the Mexican Embassy in Athens

July-August

This is traditionally considered a vacation period, in which activists suspend attacks in favor of the beach. Nonetheless, urban violence continued, albeit at a 30% decrease. A notable event (though not in Athens) was the occupation of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki by No Border prop-migrant activists and anarchists (including a large foreign contingent) in July.

These other European anarchists were generally more violent, though Greek anarchists led the way with symbolic occupations of low-risk targets (like the office of the ruling leftist Syriza party). Their purpose was to criticize the government’s new refugee camp system set up with EU guidance, following the closure of the ‘wild’ Eidomeni border camp. Activists also sought to challenge police at the Evros border fence with Turkey, but their efforts were minor and inconclusive.

10th July Anarchists and police clash in Athens, cars and trash bins burned with petrol bombs
15th July Anarchists throw paint at Turkish Embassy in Athens
26th July Anarchists throw paint at Turkish Embassy in Athens
1st August Embassy of Mexico in Athens shot at by automatic rifle, anarchists suspected

September

The action was renewed September 2016, with the end of holiday season and return to universities. Since then, the main targets of attack have been public transport, shops, governmental buildings and especially police stations- the usual targets. A police chief was also attacked in September, while there have also been various threatening proclamations against a variety of people, posted online.

Originally appeared in Balkanalysis on 11th October 2016

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Political & Security Analyst-Consultant Ioannis Michaletos is an associate of the Institute for Defense & Security Analysis and the Mediterranean Center For Strategic Analysis and Intelligence in Athens, Greece. He is a political and security consultant for the IHS Jane’s Information Group and a Southeast European correspondent for the European Oil & Gas Monitor and the European Energy Review. He is an author and research coordinator for the Balkanalysis regional media service. Mr. Michaletos leads the Southeast European office of the World Security Network Foundation, contributes to the BRIGHT magazine in issues of Balkan organized crime, and is a member of the FLARE network (European network of civil society against transnational organized crime).