Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Greece, Truth Can Be Stranger Than Fiction.

Three weeks back I wrote about three juicy bits of news I’d picked up in the Greek press. I said they were the sorts of stories I’d love to comment on had I not sworn to refrain from that kind of thing over the holidays. Well, the holidays are bye-bye, so hello to my take on a story that I can’t believe is true.

Here’s what I wrote three weeks ago:

“As reported by Ekathimerini, Greece’s equivalent of The New York Times, convicted terrorist Savvas Xeros—currently serving five consecutive life sentences plus an additional 25 years for his involvement in the November 17 terror group’s 27-year reign of terror covering 23 assassinations and thousands of related crimes—was granted a one-month furlough from prison by a Piraeus court on Thursday so that he could undergo medical treatment in a university hospital.  The issue stirred controversy in Parliament between opposition SYRIZA and ruling New Democracy, with the former’s human rights committee saying that the continued detention of an inmate diagnosed with serious health problems constitutes ‘inhumane treatment,’ and the ruling party accusing the ‘leftists’ of ‘trying to achieve the release of the murderer and terrorist by intervening in justice.’”

In other words a certified want-to-kill-as-many-of-you-as-I-can terrorist was granted a furlough allowing him to walk about as a free man. Because furlough means just that, you’re on your own, just report in.

Imagine Timothy McVeigh (Osama bin Laden is too obvious an example (though both are dead)) allowed out on furlough in Oklahoma City.

For those who see this as a positive example of prison reform in action, I couldn’t disagree with you more.  Greek prisons are the most overcrowded in Europe.  Reform is desperately needed, but awarding furloughs to such notorious assassins is not reform, it’s an invitation for disaster.  Hey, I’m all for prison reform, I spent five year as special counsel to the NYC government organization responsible for that very thing, but I also know there are some inside who should never get out.

Then there are those close friends of mine who lost loved ones to November 17 and find no furloughs from memories of their murders.

But that news is three weeks old, what’s in this week’s paper?  Well, shiver me timbers, matey, what is that headline I see before me in Ekathimerini: “Manhunt Under Way After November 17 Convict Fails to Report to Police.”

November 17 Flag

No, it can’t be. Not our guy from three weeks ago. What was his last name…Xeros, that’s it. So what’s the story?  Here what follows the headline:

Chistodoulos Xeros
“Police launched a nationwide manhunt on Tuesday after a convicted November 17 member Christodoulos Xeros failed to report in as part of his furlough obligations, prompting authorities to herald a review of the rights of prison inmates serving time for terrorism and other serious crimes.

“Xeros was granted a nine-day furlough on January 1 but failed to report to police on Tuesday after presenting himself to the authorities regularly on the previous days, prompting the alert. The 55-year-old has been serving multiple life terms at Korydallos Prison in Athens.

“Xeros’s lawyer Frangiskos Ragousis interpreted his client’s disappearance as ‘a political escape.’ ‘It is an act in line with his revolutionary action,’ he said….

“Police are believed to be investigating possible links between Xeros and other groups amid fears of a resurgence in domestic terrorism.

CCF Logo
“In an Internet statement, jailed members of Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire, another guerrilla group, expressed solidarity with Xeros and declared that ‘the time to attack has come.’

“The authorities have intensified efforts to crack down on terrorism following an attack last week on the Athens residence of German Ambassador Wolfgang Dold. Police are examining evidence from the scene of the attack amid speculation of the possible involvement of Nikos Maziotis, the convicted leader of another guerrilla group, Revolutionary Struggle, who has been at large since summer 2012 after failing to respect the terms of his furlough.”

Nikos Maziotis


Wait a minute, hold the phone…or in this case the Molotov cocktail and I reading that correctly?  A year before this escape, another furloughed, convicted, terrorist assassin also just never bothered to come back to prison?

According to the Greek media, it’s worse than that: he’s back in the terrorism business, with the new escapee expected to follow.

Revolutionary Struggle symbol

But how could something this preposterous occur?  It’s the sort of story line no one would ever believe if I wrote it.  And now it’s happened (at least) twice. Apparently under Greek law, “inmates serving life terms can be let out for a few days after serving at least eight years, provided prison and judicial authorities deem that they are not likely to escape or commit new crimes.”

You have got to love that line “provided prison and judicial authorities.”  Seems fair, seems just, seems to play right into the everyday Greek’s view of their system. I defy you to find a Greek who doesn’t think there were shenanigans involved in both terrorists’ furloughs.  The more paranoid and conspiratorial of the thinkers will call it—as Xeros’ lawyer did—a political escape, one engineered by politicians and officials sympathetic to the escapees’ politics.

This embarrassment couldn’t have come at a worse time for Greece’s government. Its coalition is desperately trying to project an image of stability and order as Greece assumes the Presidency of the European Union.  The Greek government banned demonstrations during the official installation ceremonies and pulled the plug on a visit by EU parliamentarians touring troubled European economies to assess the huge social, economic, and democratic harm caused by the Troika and its austerity measures on those suffering countries (including Greece).

And for those of you looking for a romantic angle to all of this, an Ekathimerini article yesterday reported that police believe they’re “closing in” on Xeros, after having checked the home of a “young teacher who is alleged to have become involved with Xeros during his previous furloughs.” And yes, it did say previous furloughs.

Furloughed fugitive Christoudoulos Xeros smiling.

This story and its ramifications are far from over.

By the way, I was wrong about the terrorist who escaped this week. Yes, his last name is Xeros, but he’s not he one I wrote about three weeks ago.  That one’s first name is Savvas, and he’s the brother of the one who escaped.  Both were convicted of essentially the same crimes, with the fugitive serving a 1,376-year prison term. 

Hard to imagine why someone facing that sort of time wouldn’t want to go back to prison.

But what about the brother, the one I wrote about?  Surely they’re going to cancel his furlough.  After all, his brother’s lawyer literally told the world what to expect: a “political escape.’’

Savvros Xeros

Think about that as you read this final line in the Ekathimerini article:

“In a related development on Tuesday police transferred another November 17 convict, Xeros’s brother Savvas, from Korydallos Prison to a hospital in Larissa, central Greece, following the latter’s petition to undergo treatment for multiple sclerosis.” 

For those gamblers among you, I wonder what the Vegas line is on how long until Savvas disappears?



  1. As my English friends would say: "I'm gobsmacked." I wonder what Darwin is thinking about Greece at the moment.

    1. Truth be told, Stan (Caro can verify), like many these days he'd probably be thinking about taking his Beagle and sailing away.

  2. Barbarians roaming free in the cradle of civilization?!??. There is only one sane response to this insanity. "RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!"

  3. A substantial factual inaccuracy: Maziotis was released, as the Greek constitution required, after serving the maximum 18 months of pretrial detention. The police investigation was slow, and then the judicial system dithered for a year. He and his wife continued to attend their trial for several months after their release, but then wandered off together with their baby (born during their imprisonment). Savvas Xiros, in the hospital rather than furloughed, is mostly blind as a result of the bomb exploding in his hands in 2002, and with other health issues that make him no threat to anyone. Even the police admit that Christodoulos Xiros had left 17N at least two years before the group was arrested in 2002. Unlikely that an aging Maoist would join forces with a bunch of anarchist/nihilists...

    1. Hi Brady,
      Thanks for posting your point of view on the situation. As you'll see from the UPDATE I just posted in a comment below, folks on the ground over there don't seem to agree with your assessment. And I certainly DO NOT agree with your willingness to dismiss a 55-year old murdering terrorist as simply an "aging Maoist," as if to imply "what more harm could he do?" Frankly, a lot.

    2. Hi Jeff, I'm in Athens, where indeed most people share your schadenfreude about Greek state incompetence. In the course of research for a forthcoming book on 17N, it became clear to me (as it became clear to Greek police, to their chagrin), that the confession Christodoulos signed (hoping to protect various people) is inaccurate in every significant respect. Christodoulos did a pretty good job during the trial of dismantling the threadbare evidence of his involvement in key attacks. Car thief, bomber of vacant tax offices, but probably not a murderer. I know Americans feel it unpatriotic to make fine distinctions in terrorism, but a civilized penal system weighs the actual crimes of the inmate against the motives, assesses the potential risk to society, and believes that with age people become less dangerous. By your standard of once a terrorist, always a terrorist, PM Costas Simitis should still be in jail for attacking U.S. national interests (a crude firebomb at an Esso Pappas gas station) during the Junta. It's worth remembering that 17N lasted so long because many Greeks quietly agreed with its assessment that the Greek state was corrupt and unreformable -- I'm not sure even you disagree... That murdering diplomats and businessmen was a useful way tochange things, however, was idiocy, and you notice that none of the post-17N groups have tried that tactic. Anarchist vs. Maoist, historically at least, is like Shiite versus Sunni -- Remember how GWBush learned painfully in Iraq that you ignore ideology at your peril...

    3. Hi Brady. Yes, I know you're in Athens working on your N17 book, and I'm delighted you jumped in on this subject. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

      Let's clear the air first. I respect your efforts at presenting your thoughts, even though we may disagree at some basic levels (which you, as a former diplomat, are undoubtedly used to) but to suggest that I take pleasure in the suffering brought on to the Greek people by Greek government incompetence (schadenfreude) is as out of line as my suggesting that N17 is your Scheherazade.

      Christodoulos' trial, as you point out, raised more questions than it answered. Perhaps the most troubling to me being that the first assassination--of the CIA section chief in Athens--occurred in 1975 when Christodoulos would have been 17 and his brothers younger still. Hard to imagine that a organization as ruthless and effective as N17 was run by this group of children from Ikaria.

      Which fueled the argument that they took the fall for far more important (and connected) folks. AND that the only reason they were caught was so that Greece could announce to the world in advance of the 2004 Olympic Games, that N17 was no more.

      That's a lot to chew on over coffee in the cafenions. And, yes, over the past few years I'd heard "regular" people say in complaining about the state of their country, "And we don't even have N17 around to keep our politicians in line." I take such statements more as evidence of their frustration with their political leaders than an endorsement of N17.

      I don't think anyone would be surprised to learn that there were a lot more people involved with N17 than stood trial. That the evidence against the defendants was challenged happens in every trial with good counsel--and that for sure Christodoulos had--but he was convicted and sentenced to multiple life sentences for terrorism connected murders. Period.

      As for whether Americans find it "unpatriotic to make fine distinctions in terrorism," I hasten to point out that a black man with an Arab name successfully ran for election as President vowing to do just that very thing by closing Gitmo (as for what happened after, that's another story). Such broad generalizations don't stick, any more than suggesting what harm could a "blind" terrorist do to anyone (pop "blind" and "terrorist" into your browser for an answer to that question).

      By the way, as you know by now, Christoudoulos' brother, Savvas, was returned to prison yesterday. The hospital saying he was in "good and stable condition."

      I look forward to your book. Any projected release date yet?

    4. Hi Jeff, I'm hoping for a spring release. And the mistake on Maziotis was English Kathimerini's not yours (they tell me they'll correct it next update). But I used the loaded word schadenfreude because too many people embrace any evidence of Greek official incompetence when a careful second look will show some doomed logic/legality underlying what looks like a pure fiasco. America in its old age is moving toward a Confucian idea of justice, where the important thing is that for every crime someone be punished -- individual guilt/innocence is less important than the perceived functioning of the system. As post-execution DNA exoneration reminds us, sometimes period isn't period. I'll happily talk over coffee or something stronger about the many remaining mysteries of 17N and why voting for Obama is proof of the ability to make fine distinctions about terrorism. 6946578290

    5. Hi Brady, I'm sure that coffee plus with you will be a lot of fun, and certainly interesting. I'm looking forward to it. Why don't we pick up on this off line? My email is

  4. UPDATE.
    Below is a news story in today’s Ekathimerini, updating the status of Greece’s hunt for Christodoulos Xeros. As tempted as I am to say more on the obvious failings of a lot of official folk, I think I’ll borrow from Alice’s description of her Wonderland, and say that things just keep getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

    Here’s the article:

    Anti-terrorism police officers seeking the convicted November 17 terrorist Christodoulos Xeros who absconded last week while on a prison furlough appear convinced that he had developed a close relationship with jailed members of Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire and believe the guerrilla organization may have provided the 55-year-old with a hideout.

    According to police sources, Xeros had “frequent” and “close” contact with members of Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire in Korydallos Prison where he was serving multiple life sentences, culminating in a New Year’s Eve party the day before Xeros left for his furlough.

    The contacts between Xeros and the jailed guerrillas had one key goal, according to the sources – the revival of “revolutionary violence.”

    Police are also said to be investigating suspected ties between jailed members of the Conspiracy group and a convicted member of a violent crime syndicate smashed by police in 2012 who is serving time at Domokos Prison in central Greece. It is thought that the latter may have used his contacts in Korydallos to help the guerrillas jailed there assume control of their wing and support Xeros in his bid to elude the authorities.

    According to security service officials, the crime syndicate convict was in frequent contact with the jailed guerrillas with the aim of providing members of the organization who remain at large with weapons to help them resume attacks.

    Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire is best known for a parcel bomb campaign in November 2010 that targeted embassies in Athens as well as the offices of European Union leaders in several foreign capitals.

    Sources in the police and Public Order Ministry are worried that Xeros might help members of Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire improve their knowledge and techniques, particularly in the manufacture of explosives. However, Kathimerini understands that the authorities do not fear a possible collaboration between Xeros and another convicted terrorist who has been at large since he absconded while on a furlough in summer of 2012, the self-professed leader of the leftist Revolutionary Struggle, Nikos Maziotis.

  5. Oy. Every time I get frustrated and angry about our (U.S.) government, all I have to do is think about Greece (for example), and suddenly I think, hey, maybe our crappy, do-nothing government ain't so bad after all...

    Can the bar be set any lower? If so, I need to find me a bar with shorter stools!

    1. I have to agree that just when you think you've heard it all, a guy on a shorter bar stool pulls up next to you with a bigger humdinger. Go ahead and knock yourself out on that visual, Everett. :)

  6. For those of you interested in an update on Christodoulos Xeros, the furloughed terrorist who did not return to prison, AP ran a news story today titled, "Escaped Greek Terrorist Vows Armed Action Against the Government."

    Like, duh? Here's the story:

    "A Greek fugitive who vanished on furlough from prison while serving six life sentences for left-wing bombings and shootings has vowed a return to armed action.

    "Christodoulos Xiros, 55, was convicted in 2003, along with two of his brothers, of belonging to the November 17 organization. The group emerged in the mid-1970s and claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks against foreign diplomats and Greek politicians and businessmen over nearly three decades. He vanished Jan. 7 while on a seven-day leave from prison to visit his family. In a video posted on Monday on the Internet, Xiros read a seven-page statement. It was accompanied by an apparently recent photo of him in front of pictures 19th-century Greek resistance fighters and Latin American rebel Che Guevara. A text version of the statement was included in the posting. 'I once again decided to make the guerrilla rifle thunder against those who stole our lives and sold our dreams to make a profit,' Xiros says in the statement, which rails against how Greece's financial crisis was handled. He criticizes the media, the judiciary, the police and the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn Party, and invites Greece's security forces to join with him."

  7. I recently read in a Greek paper called "Stohos" that Xeros was acutally in furlough when the two members of Golden Dawn were gunned down on the Streets of Athens.

    1. It's reported Christodoulos Xeros escaped on his 7th furlough, but I don't know how the dates of his previous furloughs match up to the Golden Dawn killings. However, if he was involved that would raise the bounty on his head from 1 million to at least 2 million euros (possibly 3) for the government has offered that reward for his capture and that of the Golden Dawn killers.