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Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 04:14 GMT
Greek guerrillas 'justify' diplomats' death
Heather Saunders watches her husband's coffin arrive home
Heather Saunders says N17's statement is preposterous
The Greek left wing guerrilla group November 17 has described its assassination of British diplomat Stephen Saunders as its most important achievement in 25 years.

Brigadier Saunders' wife Heather condemned the killers after they issued a six-page statement explaining why they killed her husband in Athens earlier this year.

The British Embassy's military attaché was gunned down as he drove to work on 8 June.

Stephen was a totally innocent man

Heather Saunders
Speaking from her home in Dorset Mrs Saunders said she was told of the statement by the British Embassy on Wednesday.

"I find the whole thing utterly preposterous," she said.

"Basically they are trying to justify killing my husband but there is no justification for what they did," she said.

"You can't, in this day and age, go around shooting someone who is completely innocent because you have some hare-brained idea that they were responsible for something they didn't do."

Statement published

Mrs Saunders said she had been getting more despondent as Christmas approaches

"This is a time when we would have been together as a family and Stephen isn't going to be here on Christmas Day."

The statement from N17, found in a dustbin after an anonymous telephone call, was published by the Athens daily paper Eleftherotypia on Wednesday.

Brigadier Saunders
Brigadier Saunders: "No Kosovo role"
The group, which takes its name from the date of a 1973 student uprising, said it used a military assault rifle for the killing.

"Brigadier Saunders was the number one at the embassy," the group said.

"He was the most important target that we have struck in our 25-year action."

They claimed Brigadier Saunders participated in Nato's air campaign against Yugoslavia and that he "had an active participation in all the imperialist interventions and war carried out in recent years by the British military forces in different countries, committing a crime against their peoples."

Joint investigation

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook joined Mrs Saunders' disgust at the statement.

"I strongly condemn N17's attempt to justify their murder of Stephen Saunders," he said.

"There can be no justification."

He said Mr Saunders had played no role in the Nato action against Kosovo.

November 17's logo, surrounded by Marx and Che Guevara
November 17 claim the brigadier's death is their 'most important action'
Brigadier Saunders was apparently at his home in Dorset learning Greek while the Kosovo conflict was at its height.

Officers from Scotland Yard have joined Greek police hunting the killers, but there are no apparent leads.

"We are working closely with the Greek police in their effort to bring these callous murderers to justice," said Mr Cook.

"We and the Greek government will remain firm in our fight against terrorism."

Brigadier Saunders was the group's first British victim and its 22nd killing since it surfaced in 1975 with the murder of CIA station chief Richard Welch.

It has since killed three more US citizens and one Greek employee at the US Embassy, a number of Turkish diplomats, and Greek businessmen.

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See also:

07 Aug 00 | Europe
Greece to toughen terrorist fight
10 Jun 00 | Media reports
Greece reacts with anger and shame
08 Jun 00 | Europe
Greek shock at killing
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