US expresses fears Dimitris Koufodinas of November 17 leftist group, who is serving 11 life sentences for murder, could abscond. Koufodinas, who has been vocal in claiming “political responsibility” for the group, emerged smiling from the Greek capital’s high-security Korydallos jail on Thursday,
The US, UK and Turkey have condemned a decision by Greek authorities to grant 48 hours of freedom to a hitman in the notorious November 17 terrorist group, currently serving 11 life sentences for multiple murders.
In a statement released late on Thursday, the US Department of State, expressed “serious concerns” that Dimitris Koufodinas could use the two-day parole to abscond.
“Our embassy in Athens has conveyed our serious concerns about this decision to the government of Greece,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. “In the past, when some of these November 17 people, who have been convicted of murder, have been let out on furlough, they’ve disappeared.”
Authorities said the temporary release was in compliance with regulations applying to all inmates. But it comes at a sensitive time for the government, which is frequently accused by opposition parties of being soft on anti-establishment groups with roots in leftist radicalism and anarchy.
Among the 23 politicians, businessmen, industrialists, publishers, soldiers and foreign officials killed by the far-left organisation in 27 years of operation, several were American, Turkish and British diplomats shot dead by Koufodinas.
Turkey’s ministry of foreign affairs also voiced disapproval and dismay, listing the diplomats executed by Koufodinas in a statement. “It is not possible to understand how a terrorist who has repeatedly claimed the lives of our diplomats is given the opportunity to enjoy such an arrangement. Displaying tolerance to a bloodthirsty terrorist in this manner is a sheer disrespect to the memory of our martyred diplomats.”
The British ambassador to Athens, Kate Smith, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the decision. “We respect the decision of Greek justice, but we are deeply disappointed by the decision to grant a furlough from prison to a terrorist murderer,” she tweeted in Greek. “And we share the pain caused by this decision to the families of the victims.”
The Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries’ first victim was Richard Welch, Athens’ CIA station chief, in 1975; its last was the British embassy’s defence attaché Brig Stephen Saunders in June 2000.
Koufodinas, who has been vocal in claiming “political responsibility” for the group, emerged smiling from the Greek capital’s high-security Korydallos jail on Thursday, after the prison council approved his request for parole, citing exemplary behaviour.
Visibly greyer after 15 years behind bars, the 59-year-old opened his arms wide as he was greeted enthusiastically outside the prison gate. Among those welcoming him was the radical leftist son of Nikos Voutsis, a leading member of the ruling Syriza party and president of parliament.
Applications for parole lodged byKoufodinas before the leftist-led government assumed power had been repeatedly rejected.
Koufodinas’s lack of remorse and heroic standing among sympathisers in other far-left urban guerrilla groups in Greece has fuelled further outrage domestically.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of the centre-right opposition, voiced disgust that a man who openly scorned democracy should enjoy a privilege granted by it. The furlough was “inconceivable” he said, adding: “In prison he operates as an ideological mentor to a new generation of terrorists.”
Mitsotakis’s brother-in-law, the conservative MP and prominent journalist Pavlos Bakoyannis, was among those killed by Koufodinas.
In an emotional exchange in parliament, Dora Bakoyiannis, his widow and a former foreign minister, said it was outrageous that the terrorist – who had openly bragged in his political autobiography “about going to a taverna to celebrate my husband’s death when my children were crying” – could be freed.
In an interview on Friday, the justice minister, Stavros Kontonis, hit back, saying the Syriza-dominated coalition was being treated unfairly because the government had neither drafted nor amended the law. The parole bore no reflection on society’s abhorrence of Koufodinas’s actions, he said.
“The government is being attacked for a decision [that] is not political,” he told Ant 1 TV. “The provision of [parole] permits for prisoners has been part of an institutionalised process for years and is not a government act.”
Koufodinas, who must report to police twice a day during his parole, told prison officials he would devote his hours of freedom to spending time with his partner and son, and beekeeping, a hobby he had taken seriously before surrendering to authorities after November 17’s collapse in 2002.
Addressing reporters, Koufodinas’s lawyer, Ioanna Kourtovik, said parole had been given because the law allowed it, although her client’s “philosophical and ideological beliefs” had not changed.
In a proclamation issued in 2009, the guerrilla group Conspiracy of Cells of Fire, which has styled itself as November 17’s successor, dedicated its armed action to Koufodinas, saying: “All these hits we dedicate to Dimitris Koufodinas, one of the few authentic revolutionaries, who never gave up, never cut a deal.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010