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Bombings: a new result of Greek crisis?

Civil unrest in Greece may have empowered guerrilla groups.

Police investigators search for evidence after a bomb explosion at a courthouse in Thessaloniki, about 310 miles north of Athens on May 14, 2010. (Grigoris Siamidis/Reuters)

ATHENS, Greece — Two bombs in 24 hours exploded in Greece’s two largest cities, demonstrating the strength of the country’s guerrilla groups at a time when the public at large is disenchanted with the government.

“This is [the groups’] golden era,” said Ioannis Michaletos, a southeastern Europe analyst for the World Security Network. “The financial crisis has gifted them a mainstream support level — they are no longer on the periphery.”

The first bomb exploded Thursday evening outside Athens’ main Korydallos prison, where several members of an urban guerrilla group called Revolutionary Struggle are being held. One person was injured. The second bomb exploded at lunchtime today just outside the northern port city of Thessaloniki’s main judiciary building complex.

“Today and yesterday’s actions are criminal and don’t fit within the context of our democratic state,” said government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis. “The illusion of an ideological sheen [to the groups’ actions] that existed until now has disappeared.”

The Greek government is facing prolonged social unrest over its introduction of unpopular austerity measures aimed at driving down the country’s ballooning deficit and meeting the terms of a $137.5 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.

But Greeks are split over the groups of hooded anti-authoritarians who infiltrate demonstrations, smash up banks and fight running battles with riot police. Some condemn them, others view them as Robin Hood-style vigilantes delivering justice to the average person, while others believe they are government provocateurs who carry out atrocities such as last Wednesday’s firebombing of a bank, which led to the death of three employees, in order to discourage people from attending anti-government demonstrations.

“Ordinary people won’t mind four-five bombs going off in public, especially if they’re targeting the state and politicians,” said Christos Retoulas, an Athens-based specialist in Turkish area studies and security affairs. “They feel that a form of justice is being done at a time when every political party aside from the communists have supported the IMF reforms.”

Petros Giannikos, a street salesman standing outside the busy Monastiraki metro station, said that many Greeks "believe that these actions are being carried out by state-sponsored provocateurs to create an atmosphere of fear that will allow the government to declare a junta."

There were no claims of responsibility for the bombs, but Greek authorities privately blame a slew of new radical groups that have appeared in the past decade. Their actions have increased since December 2008, when a policeman shot dead a 15-year old schoolboy in Athens, sparking a week of countrywide rioting.

“Increasingly, there’s going to be widespread panic in Greece, Retoulas said. “There’s going to be a lot more of this and, this time, the bombs won’t be exploding at 3 and 4 a.m. with no injuries but in broad daylight and with the full backing of large sections of the society."