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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 17:42 GMT 18:42 UK
Greek terror suspects charged
Vassilis (left) and Christodoulos Xiros (right, in flak jackets) come out of the prosecutor's office escorted by police
Tight security in force at the Greek prosecutor's office
Three suspected members of the Greek November 17 group who police say have confessed to a series of bombings and killings have been formally charged.

Prosecutors have accused the men of a series of crimes, including murder and attempted murder.

One of the men is said to have admitted killing British military attache Brigadier Stephen Saunders from Dorset, while his brother is alleged to have killed two US military officials among others.

Alleged confessions
Vasilis Xiros: The killing of Brigadier Saunders and a Greek-British businessman
Christodoulos Xiros: Five killings, including those of two US military officials
Dionisis Georgiakis: Non-lethal bombing
The three have been in custody for the past two days, and police are also holding a fourth man captured overnight who they believe may be the group's leader.

At least seven alleged suspects are now believed to be in custody, in what the Greeks are hailing as an historic breakthrough against the guerrillas.

November 17, a left-wing group, has been blamed for more than 20 deaths in its 27 years of operations.

Wearing flak jackets, the three suspects were taken from Athens police headquarters to the prosecutor's office, while heavily armed police cordoned off nearby streets, Reuters news agency reported.

If found guilty they face sentences from 10 years to life.

They now have three days to prepare their defence before Greek magistrates rule on whether they should face trial, according to Reuters.

Serious blow

Police chief Fotis Nasiakos said the three men had "admitted their acts and described in detail the way there were committed".

Alexandros Giotopoulos - undated picture shown on Alpha TV
Police have arrested Giotopoulos, who they say may be the group's leader

Brigadier Saunders was killed in a drive-by shooting in Athens in June 2000 - it was the last crime linked to the group.

The man alleged to have taken part in Brigadier Saunders' killing was named as Vasilis Xiros. Police said he had also confessed to involvement in the murder of Greek-British businessman Constantinos Peratikos.

On Wednesday, police said ballistic tests had linked a gun used by November 17 to the murder of Brigadier Saunders and six other people.

Hours later, an anti-terrorist unit arrested Alexandros Giotopoulos, who they believe may be the leader of the group.

Mr Giotopoulos, 58, was seized in a helicopter swoop on the remote Aegean island of Lipsi.

He is now being questioned in Athens.

Under pressure

In recent weeks the Greek authorities have carried out raids and arrests, striking a serious blow against the group for the first time.

The first major breakthrough came as a man, named as Savvas Xiros, was wounded when a bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely.

He is the brother of two of the men who are said to have confessed to taking part in several killings.

November 17 takes its name from the date of a 1973 student uprising, which was crushed by the army.

Greece has been under pressure to crack down on the group in the run-up to the 2004 Olympic Games to be held in Athens.

The BBC's James Robbins
"With the 2004 Olympics looming Greece knows it faces a huge image problem over security"
Athanassios Ellis, Antenna TV
"A lot of work was done by the Greeks, the FBI and Scotland Yard"
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