Bombings: a new result of Greek crisis?

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."

Today’s bomb closed off a central part of Thessaloniki. It was placed in a toilet in the judiciary complex after presumably being smuggled in past the 30-strong police force guarding the building. There are no scanners in place, AFP quoted a local judiciary source as saying.

“These actions are an effort by Revolutionary Struggle to show that its central members were not arrested in the recent police sweeps,” said Michaletos. “The remainder are engaging in a show of force to prove that all that the police grabbed was a peripheral cell.”

Revolutionary Struggle emerged in 2003, during the run-up to the Athens Olympics. Greek and British authorities had just rolled up 17 November, a Marxist guerrilla group that killed several Greek politicians and businessmen and foreign diplomats during its 30-year reign of terror. In its most audacious attack yet, Revolutionary Struggle fired a WASP 58 rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. Embassy in 2007 but claimed no casualties.

“[These attacks are] nothing more than a symbolic strike telling the authorities that we are capable of hitting even the jails in which you hold our comrades,” Retoulas said, referring to the two members of Revolutionary Struggle currently being held inside Korydallos.

This week’s bombings made a mockery of the Greek government’s efforts to quash the two-year long bombing campaign by introducing new measures that include banning the wearing of hooded shirts in public, expanding the network of CCTV cameras and registering citizens’ IDs when they purchase SIM cards for mobile phones.

Police officials believe that smaller radical groups such as the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei and Revolutionary share their operational headquarters with Revolutionary Struggle and jointly benefit from organized crime to fund their activities, through sponsoring bank robberies and selling weapons on the black market.

“17 November was a classic closed group of the 1970s while these guys have open and vertical leadership chains with a high turnover of members, a franchise structure and the tendency to act in independent cells through a small number of influential coordinators,” said Michaletos.

Analysts believe that there are crossovers with Greece’s thriving anarchist movement, mostly focusing on logistical support such as the use of houses to stay or cars to use for operations.

The blasts came during a landmark visit to Athens by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during which he signed a slew of bilateral agreements. Police ruled out the possibility that the blasts were linked to the visit, despite sections of the media criticizing the government for what is being called a “capitulation” to Ankara. Greece’s resurgent nationalist wing is concerned that, in its current enfeebled state, the country is in no position to enter agreements with Turkey.