Revolutionary Organization 17 November

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17 November, a violent Marxist-Leninist organization

The Revolutionary Organization 17 November (also known as November 17, 17 November, 17N or N17, Greek: Επαναστατική Οργάνωση 17 Νοέμβρη), based in Greece, was one of the most active terrorist groups in Western Europe in the 1980s. The group's name derives from the November 17, 1973 student uprising in Athens that was violently quelled by the military junta ruling Greece at the time.

17 November was a violent Marxist-Leninist organization. It's ideology was anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-United States/NATO. The group had been critical of the Greek government for not addressing issues such as the situation in Cyprus, the presence of US bases in Greece, and Greek membership in NATO and the European Community.

Until 2002 no member of the group had been identified or arrested.

History

1970s through 1980s

The organization's initial attacks were selected handgun assassinations of senior US officials, including US Embassy employee Richard Welch in 1975, and US Navy Captain George Tsantes in 1983. In 1975 the group began assassinating Greek officials and public figures.

Tactically, 17 November demonstrated a limited operational capability prior to 1985. From 1975 to February 21, 1985, and the Momferatos assassination, 17 November carried out six attacks. Five of these were simple assassinations requiring minimal logistical planning. The sixth operation was an attempted assassination of a US serviceman. These attacks resulted in the death of eight people (two of whom were Americans). Seven of the victims were shot with the same .45 caliber weapon. By using the same “signature” weapon, especially in the early operational stages, 17 November ensured that no other group could take credit for it’s operations.

Beginning in the 1980s bombings became a regular weapon in the group's arsenal. Among their activities during this period were attacks against US military buses in 1987 and the assassination of US defense attache William Nordeen in 1988.

1990s and beyond

After 1990, 17 November also targeted European Community facilities and foreign firms investing in Greece, and added improvised rocket attacks to its methods.

The organization was responsible for at least five of the 15 terrorist attacks against coalition targets in Greece during the Gulf War, including the assassination of a US Army sergeant in March 1991. They also stepped up attacks against Turkish interests, including the attempted murder of a Turkish Embassy Official in July, and the assassination of a Turkish Embassy press attache in October 1991.

Its operations during 1992 were more reckless and less well planned than in the past. In July, for the first time the group killed a bystander in the course of a rocket attack in downtown Athens on the Greek Finance Minister.

In late November, authorities arrested one of Greece’s most wanted terrorists--a suspected member of the “Anti-State Struggle” organization, possibly linked to 17 November. The group continued to attack official Greek targets. These attacks included the shooting in December of a Greek parliamentarian and the bombing of tax offices.

Greece was the venue for a large number of international terrorist attacks in 1994, the most serious of which was the July 4th assassination of the acting Deputy Chief of Mission of the Turkish Embassy. The Revolutionary Organization 17 November formally claimed responsibility. A number of other attacks against Western interests in April were possibly sparked by events in the Balkans. These including an unsuccessful mortar attack against the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal in Piraeus, for which 17 November also took responsibility. Attacks were also executed against American, Dutch, French, and German commercial and diplomatic targets.

Following the November 26, 1986, car bombing of a Greek police bus, which injured 13 police officers (one fatally), 17 November moved into a new operational phase. Whereas the first phase can be referred to as one of low activity, with only a limited number of operations (six attacks from December 23, 1975, to February 21, 1985), the second phase was characterized by a higher level of tactical sophistication, as well as an increase in the number and lethality of attacks. From February 21, 1985 to it’s last possitively identified attack in 1990 (the rocket attack against the offices of the European Community on December 16, 1990), 17 November carried out 40 attacks, which resulted in the deaths of five people and injury of 48 others. Statistically, this five-year period had accounted for 87% of all the group’s operations since 1975.

In June 2000, the group killed Stephen Saunders, a British Defence Attaché. His wife went on television urging the Greek people to help apprehend his killers. No one had ever been previously allowed such a direct appeal.

Arrests and trial

Photo of Dimitris Koufodinas, the man who handled most of the group's assassinations.
The Xiros brothers and Dimitris Koufodinas (middle) during the trial.

Following a failed operation in Piraeus on June 29, 2002 the Greek authorities captured an injured suspect, Savvas Xiros. His interrogation led to the discovery of two safe houses and to the arrest of a further six suspects, including two brothers of Savvas. A 58-year-old professor and translator, Alexandros Giotopoulos, was identified as the group leader and was arrested on July 17 on the island of Lipsi. On September 5, Dimitris Koufodinas -identified as the group's chief of operations- surrendered to the authorities. In all, nineteen individuals were charged with some 2,500 offences relating to November 17's activities. Because of the 20-year statute of limitations, murders before 1984 could not tried by the court.


The trial of the terrorist suspects commenced in Athens on March 3, 2003, with District Attorney Christos Lambrou serving as the prosecutor for the Greek state. On December 8, fifteen of the accused, including A. Giotopoulos and D. Koufodinas, were found guilty; another four were acquitted for lack of evidence. The convicted members were sentenced on December 17, with A. Giotopoulos sentenced to 21 life terms, the heaviest sentence in modern Greek legal history. Koufodinas received 13 life terms, Christodoulos Xeros receive 10 life terms, Savvas Xeros six, Vassilis Tzortzatos four, Iraklis Kostaris one. Lesser sentences were imposed on the remaining nine, in the light of extenuating circumstances.

Lawyers for the defendants as well as several civil rights groups have stressed the special character of the trial. The trial was conducted by a special court with closed doors and the use of television cameras prohibited. People sympathetic to their cause believe that this was so that it would be easier to condemn all the accused. Many of the accused, notably Alexandros Giotopoulos, denied their participation until the end of the year-long trial. According to Giotopoulos, he was framed so that the image of a terrorist organization led by a clear leader could be presented. The accused who did admit participation in the group, notably Dimitris Koufodinas who took "full political responsibility for all of the group's actions", presented a picture of a loose horizontally organized structure with small cells and decisions taken by discussion and consensus.

Photo of Alexandros Giotopoulos as he was being brought in the Greek Police HQ for questioning.

Under Greek law, one life term is equal to a 25-year term and a convict may apply for parole after 16 years. If sentenced to more than one life term, he or she must serve at least 20 years before being eligible for parole. Other sentences will run concurrently, with 25-year terms being the maximum and with parole possible after three-fifths of this term are served.

On September 17, 2004, the imprisoned started a short-lived hunger strike protesting the especially harsh conditions of their imprisonment and their sensory isolation at Korydallos prison. According to their statements, "bourgeois democracy" takes revenge on them by enclosing them in "a prison within a prison."

On December 6, 2005, the convicted members of 17N appeared at the court of appeal for a new lengthy trial.

List of Targets

The following constitutes a list of activities attributed to 17N:

  • December 23 1975: Murder of CIA Station Chief Richard Welch in Psychiko
  • December 13 1976: Assassination of Police officer Evangelos Mallios who had been discharged after torturing prisoners during the Junta
  • January 16 1980: Murder of MAT(Riot Squad) Deputy Director Pantelis Petrou and his driver in Pangrati
  • November 15 1983: US Navy Captain George Tsantes who is the head of JUSMAGG is killed with his driver Nikos Veloutsos, an employee of the US Embassy, on Kiffissia Avenue in Psychiko
  • August 3 1984: Failed attempt against JUSMAGG officer Robert Judd near the US Airbase at Hellenikon
  • February 21 1985: Publisher Nikos Momferatos of the daily paper Apogevmatini and his driver are killed in Kolonaki
  • November 26 1985: Officer Nikos Georgakopoulos is killed when a bomb explodes near a MAT bus near the Hilton
  • April 8 1986: Industrialist Dimitris Angelopoulos, chairman of Halivourgiki Steel Company and friend of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou is killed while leaving his home in Kolonaki.
  • October 5 1986: Bomb attacks on Tax Offices
  • February 4 1987: Attack on Dr Zacharias Kapsalakis
  • April 24 1987: Bomb attack on US Air Force bus. 16 American soldiers and the driver are injured.
  • August 10 1987: Remote control car bomb injures 11 American soldiers on a bus in Kavouri.
  • January 21 1988: Failed assassination on US official George Karos
  • March 1 1988: Murder of Industrialist Alexandros Athanasiades-Bodosakis on Kiffisias Avenue in Filothei
  • June 28 1988: Assassination of US Military Attache Wiliam Nordeen by booby-trapped car in Kifissia.
  • August 15 1988: Attack on police station in Vyronas. Without firing a shot November 17th members tie up a number of police officers and leave with cache of weapons and ammunition.
  • January 10 1989: Public Prosecutor Constantine Androulidakis is wounded in the legs but dies a month later.
  • May 8 1989: Former Minister Giorgos Petsos is injured in a bomb attack in Filothei
  • September 26 1989: Pavlos Bakoyiannis, New Democracy Parliamentary spokesman and son-in-law of party leader Constantine Mitsotakis is shot and killed allegedly for his part in investigating the Bank of Crete scandal. He was the husband of Dora Bakoyiannis and the first active politician to be killed.
  • December 25 1989: Anti-tank rockets and ammunition are stolen from a base in Larissa
  • May 15 1990: Bazookas are stolen from the Athens War Museum.
  • November 20 1990: Rocket attack on the armored limousine of businessan Vardis Vardinoyiannis, who escapes unharmed.
  • March 13 1991: Remote controlled bomb kills US Army Sergeant Ronald Stewart in Glyfada
  • July 16 1991: Turkish charge-d'affaires Deniz Bölükbaşı is injured by a car bomb.
  • September 7 1991: Cetin Gorgu, Turkish assistant press attache is shot and killed in his car in Pangrati
  • November 2 1991: Policeman Yiannis Varis is killed and 6 other policemen are inured by rocket and grenade attack on a MAT bus in Exarchia.
  • July 14 1992: Finance Minister Ioannis Palaiokrassas escapes injury when his limousine is attacked by rockets but passerby Athanasios Axarlian, a 22-year old student is killed on Voulis street.
  • December 21 1992: New Democracy party deputy chairman Eleftherios Papadimitriou is shot but not killed.
  • January 24 1994: Michalis Vranopoulos, the former governer of the National Bank of Greece is killed outside his office in Kolonaki
  • July 4 1994: Turkish Diplomat Omer Sipahioglu is shot and killed in Palaio Faliron
  • March 15 1995: Rocket attack on MEGA TV studios during the evening news causes damage but no deaths.
  • February 15 1996: Mortar attack on the US Embassy in Athens.
  • May 25 1997: Shipowner Costas Peratikos is killed in Piraeus.
  • May 17 1999: Rocket attack on German Ambassador's residence in retaliation for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
  • May 17 2000: Stephen Saunders, the British defense attache is murdered while stopped in traffic in Filothei.
  • June 29 2002: A bomb that detonates in the hands of Savvas Xeros starts a chain reaction of arrests of Novermber 17th members.