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November 17, Revolutionary People’s Struggle, Revolutionary Struggle (Greece, leftists)

Updated: January 12, 2007

What is November 17?

A radical, leftist Greek terrorist group, also known as 17 N or N 17, with a tiny membership and a loathing for America, the West, and capitalism. Most anti-terrorism experts think the organization has no more than twenty-five members—many of them related to one another, which may explain why the group was able to operate secretly and securely for almost three decades. But in July 2002, amid mounting pressure to track down terrorists before the 2004 Olympics, Greek authorities made a major breakthrough and began arresting November 17 members. In December 2003, Greek courts dealt November 17 a crippling blow as fifteen members of the group were convicted of various crimes including homicide; the leader of the group and several key operatives were given multiple life sentences.

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How has the Greek government handled terrorism?

After almost three decades of scant success at combating leftist terrorists, Greek authorities finally made headway against November 17 in the summer of 2002. A failed June 2002 bombing in the port of Pireaus led Greek police to their first arrest of a November 17 member, and they captured four more members in July, including two brothers of the Pireaus bomber and a man charged with being the group’s leader. Police also raided November 17’s Athenshide-outs and weapons storehouses, seized weapons caches, and uncovered troves of documents.

Experts say much of the impetus for the 2002 breakthrough came from concerns that Greece’s terrorism problem could mar the 2004 Olympics. Earlier Greek efforts were much less effective, leading some terrorism experts to suspect links or sympathies between Greece’s ruling socialist elite and the tiny terror groups. After the June 2000 murder of British Defense Attaché Stephen Saunders by November 17, Greece strengthened its police counterterrorism unit, offered multimillion-dollar rewards for leads on terrorist groups, and passed legislation for more vigorous counterterrorism efforts. Leading Greek politicians, including the prime minister, denounced Saunders’ murder and terrorism in general. The public widely observed a national moment of silence for victims of terrorism, and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos held an unprecedented memorial service for victims of terrorism inGreece. By the end of 2000, Greece had signed all twelve of the U.N. counterterrorism conventions and ratified ten of them. It also sought closer British and American cooperation on counterterrorism.

What sort of attacks has November 17 launched?

The organization’s first known attack came in December 1975, when the CIA’s Athens station chief was shot with a .45-caliber pistol, November 17’s favorite weapon. Since then, the group has claimed responsibility for twenty-one murders, including the killings of a U.S. Navy captain, a U.S. defense attaché, a Turkish diplomat, and a British defense attaché. November 17’s initial attacks were directed at senior U.S. officials and Greek public figures, but during the 1980s the group expanded its operations to include bombings of ordinary citizens and property. Its targets have also included foreign business and European Union facilities. Since the 2002 arrest, November 17 appears to be inactive.  However, some say that a new group, Revolutionary Struggle, was created by those members of November 17 who were not detained.

Where did November 17 get its name?

From the November 17, 1973, student uprising at Athens Polytechnic University. Twenty students were killed when Greek army tanks suppressed the protests, and the group formed in part to retaliate against the ruling military junta.

What are November 17’s goals?

The group, which espouses communism, has continued its anti-Western stance after the Cold War. November 17 bitterly opposes Greek participation in NATO. It also favors ousting U.S. military bases from Greek territory, severing Greece ’s ties with the European Union, removing the Turkish military presence from Cyprus , and launching an anti-capitalist popular uprising against the Greek middle and upper-classes. In December 2000, after killing a British general, the group released a communiqué defending itself against mounting public criticism by trying to appeal to populist, pro-Serb sentiments and urging Greeks to defy the government’s counterterrorism efforts.

Are there other terrorist groups in Greece?

Yes. After November 17, the most important was Revolutionary People’s Struggle, known by its Greek acronym ELA—a radical leftist terrorist group that emerged to oppose the Greek military junta that ruled from 1967 to 1974. The group disbanded in 1995. ELA was a self-described revolutionary, anti-capitalist group that opposed “imperialist domination, exploitation, and oppression.” It was strongly anti-American and hoped to expel U.S. military forces from Greece. In October 2004, four former members of the group were convicted by a special Athens anti-terrorism court on charges ranging from weapons possession to complicity in forty-two terrorist bombings.

A similar group, calling itself simply Revolutionary Struggle, or EA, emerged in 2003 with the bombing of an Athens courthouse that injured one police officer. The group has ideological ties to both November 17 and ELA, and some analysts suspect its ranks are filled with members from the earlier groups. EA has launched increasingly bold attacks in recent years, attempting to assassinate Greece’s culture minister in May 2006 and firing a rocket into the U.S. embassy in Athens in January 2007. To date, no fatalities have resulted from EA’s attacks.