European authorities have been shaken by the re-emergence of a Greek protest group classed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. state department.
On March 16, a parcel arrived at the German ministry of finance addressed to Wolfgang Schauble, the country’s steely second-in-command. Police said the package was designed to look like it was sent by Adonis Georgiadis, the deputy leader of Greece’s conservative opposition New Democracy party.
But in reality, this was no friendly exchange between two like-minded politicians. The intercepted parcel – containing a small scale explosive mechanism – had most likely been mailed by a group known as the conspiracy of fire cells (CFC), an organization that’s been active in Greece for the past decade and is considered by many to be the most dangerous anarchist group in the country.
“Unfortunately it’s true,” Georgiadis tweeted after the incident, “and not funny at all.” The right-wing MP is the owner of a bookshop that was also attacked in March, an act also assumed to have been carried out by the CFC.
At the same time, another parcel, which successfully exploded, arrived in the International Monetary Fund’s offices in Paris. This one was sent in the name of current New Democracy spokesperson Vasilis Kikilias and injured one person. While the CFC didn’t claim this attack, the method and timing are very suggestive.
Following these letter bombs, Greek police tracked the parcels back to a post office distribution center in a suburb of Athens, where they discovered another eight packages containing identical mechanisms, all addressed to politicians abroad – including one for Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem. The parcels had been dropped off at post boxes in the surrounding area, before being collected and brought to the distribution center.
A tested formula
This recent spate of parcel bombs follows a similar attempt by CFC to send a number of explosive parcels to foreign embassies in Athens back in 2010, suggesting they have entered another phase of a long-term plan. Back then, Greek authorities were forced to suspend international mail services for 48 hours.
In an announcement –which police consider to be genuine – posted online after the packaged was sent to Schauble, the CFC declared: “We still have the rage…. We sent the package to Germany’s finance minister as part of the second act of Nemesis Plan, nothing is over, everything continues.”
This is just the latest in a series of incidents involving the CFC to make the Greek authorities nervous. Considered the heir to 17 November, the biggest far-left terrorist group to emerge from the era of the 1967 dictatorship, the CFC have been a constant headache for police since their 2009 inception.
The group’s anarchist ideology – with its roots in the anti-dictatorial struggle of 1967 – is one of several anarchist movements that have gained a new energy in recent years, thanks to the financial crisis that has been dogging Greece since 2010. Not limiting their discontent to simple anti-austerity slogans, the group seeks to attack institutions and specific people in Greece and abroad that they deem responsible for the present situation.
Officially, the group’s first strikes followed the extensive riots sparked by the death of Alexandros Grigoropoulos – a 15 year old student killed by a police officer in Dec. 2008. A number of bombs were sent to banks in Athens and Piraeus, and from 2009 the group extended the scope of its action outside the capital and into Thessaloniki, attacking the offices and homes of MPs and former ministers.
Despite dozens of arrests in the past few years, the group appears able to organize and easily co-ordinate attacks such as those seen in March. Police officials have suggested in the past that they fear the group has been able to successfully recruit inside the prison system, despite being under constant supervision, and continue their activity that way.
Several escape attempts aided by people on the outside have done little to quell those suspicions. The minister of public order Nikos Toskas supported this view in a TV interview, when he said: “We believe we’ll have results from the investigation on CFC very soon. There are leftovers of the group still free who are cooperating with common criminals.”
Despite finding themselves on high priority target lists with the U.S. State Department and Europol, CFC still managed to organize a bomb attack on Georgia Tsatani’s (a public prosecutor) residence in central Athens a few months ago, and are generally considered to be behind more than 150 incidents over the past eight years.
Their targets are very specific – chosen according to their perceived involvement in cases of political corruption. The attack on the prosecutor’s house was blamed (among other things) on her alleged collusion in the dismissal of the Vatopedi scandal.
The Greek authorities suggested a few months ago to CNN Greece they are also worried that in some cases, the group will not take responsibility for certain actions to avoid prolonging their detention. Under Greece’s counter-terrorism legislation, a member of a terrorist group can be charged with conspiracy to commit crimes, even if they were involved only in an organizational capacity from inside prison.
A new phase
With this new attack taking place outside Greece, there are concerns that far-left terrorism might be gearing up for a new phase. Recently, the CFC has declared an aim to become “sister” groups with the Italian ‘Informal Anarchist Federation’ (FAI), in a move designed to create “an international conspiracy network …in tens of countries,” while a recent blogpost also included greetings to the Chilean FAI “for their participation in the Nemesis plan.”
The FAI came to public attention when they threatened to target the U.K. during the 2012 Olympic games, but have also been accused of arson attacks in Russia and Argentina. The group has also waged action against nanotechnology researchers and pro-nuclear lobbies, and claimed responsibility for the non-fatal shooting of a nuclear-engineering executive on 7 May in Genoa, Italy.
After a period of relative quiet, CFC have made their presence felt in Greece again. Though their recent bombs have failed to do serious harm, the Greek authorities are unsettled, and have reacted by requesting assistance from abroad, to which German authorities have responded positively.
But cracking down on any single group isn’t enough to solve Greece’s far-left anarchist problem. For that, the political and financial issues that produced this discontent will have to be resolved. The country is not even close to that yet.
Yiannis Baboulias is a writer based in Athens.