Two Saudi diplomatic vehicles have been targeted in late-night arson attacks in Athens, Greece, over the past two days. Characteristics of the attacks show a level of coordination that suggests these are not just coincidences.
Saudi Embassy cars were targeted in arson attacks on April 14 and April 15 in Athens, Greece. Two separate groups — "Subversive Cell" and "Anti-State Justice" (ASJ) — have already claimed responsibility for the attacks. Attacks on property (especially that belonging to foreigners) are fairly common in Athens — but there are too many similarities between these two attacks to say, as the spokesman for the Greek Embassy in Riyadh did, that they are disconnected and were not targeting Saudi Arabia. The recent increased presence of Saudis in Greece as tourists and businessmen could be sparking protest from groups known to oppose globalization and to attack foreigners. Both attacks occurred after midnight but before dawn in neighborhoods northeast of central Athens, several miles from the Saudi Embassy. The targets were cars belonging to the embassy; the cars bore green diplomatic plates, but apparently there were no overt indications that the cars were Saudi. Cooking gas canisters were set under the cars and used as explosive incendiary devices — a technique the ASJ anarchist group has used before. Both cars were destroyed by fire, but nobody was injured in either of the attacks. Vandalism in Athens targeting symbols of capitalism and globalization is quite common. Scores of anarchist groups come together and disband continuously, usually targeting banks, diplomatic cars and car dealerships. The ASJ group claimed that its bombing on April 15 was to protest the arrest and detention of one of the group's members last year. But two Saudi vehicles targeted in two consecutive days raises more suspicions. The spokesman for the Greek Embassy in Riyadh, George Kyriakopoulof, said after the first attack on April 14 that it did not represent a specific attack on Saudi Arabia and that vandals were simply attacking a foreign diplomatic vehicle as they often do after a soccer match. But the second attack on April 15 dispelled much of this logic. First, since diplomatic vehicles in Athens carry only a green license plate but no country markings, it is highly suspicious that arsonists would attack two Saudi cars consecutively unless they had some way of knowing that the cars belonged to Saudi officials. To determine that it was a Saudi vehicle, the attackers would have had to conduct surveillance on the car; either by following it from the embassy or watching to see who entered or exited the car. Either method shows at least a small degree of planning and purpose. It is highly unlikely that soccer hooligans would just happen to attack two Saudi diplomatic cars in a row. Second, the use of rigged gas canisters that produce a small explosion when detonated requires preparation. Whoever has gone out two nights in a row to carry out these attacks has put some effort into their attack beforehand. ASJ has claimed responsibility for attacks in the past on ATM machines, a vehicle belonging to a Finnish diplomat, banks and buildings belonging to the ruling New Democracy party. Subversive Cell is an unknown group, but given the circumstances, it appears to either be a front for or a collaborator with ASJ. The more dangerous members of "November 17th", who are now operating under different names and are believed to be behind the January 2007 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Athens, are not likely to have been involved in the arson attacks. The presence of Saudis in Greece has increased recently, with more than double the number of visitors and businessmen coming to the country in 2007 than in 2004. The increased presence of Middle Easterners in the country could be unsettling to some, thus sparking these attacks. Greece is also courting Saudi Arabia as a major investor — certainly a move of which anarchists would not approve. There is always the chance that the attackers simply happened to hit two Saudi vehicles consecutively, but to do this without knowing the target beforehand in a city as big as Athens is unlikely.