Gunfire aimed at German envoy's residence in Athens seen as 'symbolic' attack


The attack happened days before Greece assumed the rotating EU presidency.

By H.K. Tzanis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 10/01/14


Police investigators search for evidence outside the residence of the German ambassador on December 30th in Athens. [AFP]

Authorities in Greece are continuing to look for at least four unidentified suspects who fired about 60 rounds from assault rifles at the German ambassador's official residence in Athens last month.

The December 30th incident was reminiscent of past attacks on diplomatic targets that came just days before Greece assumed the six-month rotating EU presidency in 2014.

No one was injured in the attack, which authorities said was carried out with a pair of AK-47 military rifles. The residence is prominently situated and visible along a busy street -- a few hundred metres from the Croatian embassy -- leading to Athens' leafy northeastern suburbs.

Athens-based analyst Ioannis Michaletos told SETimes that the target of the attack, the German envoy's residence, was highly symbolic.

"It represents the Troika [Greece's institutional lenders], if it's not the same individual then it's someone from the same group," he added.

Noted academic Mary Bossi also referred to a "highly symbolic act, one within the context of actions by various [urban terrorist] groups active over the last 20 years. After 2000 they exhibited very little political context; new types of organisations formed, ones without a clear ideological basis or content, ones that, in fact, describe themselves as not even leftist."

Bossi, a professor of international security at the University of Piraeus, said "hate" is a new element seen in nascent terror cells, as past groups went to great lengths not to hurt so-called innocent victims.

"These new groups have ignored this concept, there is no such thing for them, and everyone has a share of the responsibility. Everyone is a target," she told SETimes.

Mindful of the fragile state of the Greek economy and sensitivities in Greek-German relations since the onset of the Eurozone crisis in late 2009, official announcements in both Berlin and Athens quickly downplayed the incident.

Within hours of the bullets hitting the diplomatic residence, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras spoke on the phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Samaras strongly condemned the attack, while promising that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. He also stressed that the Greek government will not let terrorists accomplish their goal.

The latter reference, according to the media and analysts, ranges from disrupting whatever economic recovery is happening in the country, to straining bilateral ties with Athens' biggest creditor, to staining the commencement of the EU presidency.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier initially noted that "absolutely nothing can justify such an attack on a representative of our country," while at the same time emphasising that "the perpetrators will not succeed in breaking the good relations between Germany and Greece, and between German people and Greeks."

Germany's ambassador to Greece, Wolfgang Dold, told the Athens daily Kathimerini on January 4th "it appears that some people want to derail Greece, and that they believe the signs of economic recovery don't suit their cause."

The German ambassador's residence had previously been the target of another terrorist attack in May 1999 when members of the then-elusive November 17 terrorist group fired an anti-tank rocket at the building. No one was injured and only minor material damages were reported.

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The same ultra-Marxist terror gang was responsible for seven assassinations of foreign diplomats and military personnel and the serious wounding of two -- in total, five Americans, three Turks and a Briton since its first appearance in 1976. It claimed 23 victims until a botched bombing in June 2002 led to the arrest and conviction of its mostly middle-aged members.

Michaletos said he doesn't foresee problems in bilateral or unilateral relations, assuming similar incidents are not repeated.

"Nevertheless, it's not a good sign to have the ambassador's residence hit [by gunfire] with the envoy's daughter sleeping inside," he said.

How should police in Athens and Germany respond to the threat against the ambassador's home? Add your thoughts to the space below.

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