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2003: Greek terrorists convicted

A court in Athens has convicted 15 key members of Greece's most infamous left-wing terrorist group known as November 17.

Among those targeted by the group were Greek public figures, businessmen and foreign diplomats.

The last murder committed by the group was the killing of the British defence attaché, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, shot dead in Athens in June 2000.

Four defendants, including the mastermind of the group Alexandros Yiotopoulos, were convicted of the assassination, the group's last in a string of 23 murders since 1975.

"That's what we hoped for"

British widow Heather Saunders

Reacting to the verdicts Brigadier Saunder's widow Heather said: "That's what we hoped for."

Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyiannis, whose parliamentarian husband Pavlos Bakoyiannis was shot dead by the group in 1989, said: "Greek justice spoke today. Its decisions are respected by all."

It was Greece's first ever terrorism trial and lasted nine months, attracting huge media attention.

Altogether 19 people were tried and 15 convicted including Yiotopoulos who was found guilty of planning and authorising about 2,000 crimes.

He denied links to the group and as he was led from court he shouted: "Today's Greece is a modern colony of the United States!"

Four suspects were cleared of involvement in the group, including two alleged founding members and the wife of the group's alleged chief of operations, Angeliki Sotiropoulou.

Another four defendants, who had admitted participation in the group and co-operated with police were told by the court, they would be given special consideration.

The group is named after a 1973 student uprising against Greece's 1967-1974 junta and presented itself as the people's avengers against "US imperialists and capitalists".

It has been a thorn in the side of the Greek authorities anxious to prove they had security under control ahead of the Athens 2004 Olympics.

A 20-year statute of limitations stopped the court from looking into four murders committed between Christmas 1975 - when the group began its activities with the assassination of CIA Athens station chief Richard Welch - and 1983.

Sentences are expected to be announced next week.

In Context
On 17 December 2003 Alexandros Giotopoulos and Dimitris Koufodinas were sentenced to multiple life terms.

Five terrorists were jailed for 25 years, one got nine years and two others got eight after cooperating with the court.

In an act of leniency, Kostas Telios got his 25-year sentence suspended.

He had helped build the case against November 17 and testified against the other men.

At the end of the trial, the Greek authorities believed they had crippled the most dangerous domestic terrorist threat.

But smaller groups continued to carry out bombings and arson attacks in Athens and other cities ahead of the August 2004 Olympics.

This, combined with fears of an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack, meant the Greek Government spent more than $1.2bn on security for the games - three times what was spent on Sydney 2000.

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