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Jan 13, 2007 | 00:40 GMT

4 mins read

The U.S. Embassy Attack in Athens: A Potential Link to the Past

The extremist group Revolutionary Struggle (EA) claimed responsibility Jan. 12 for a pre-dawn rocket attack against the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece. The attack, which caused only slight damage and no injuries, is similar to rocket attacks carried out by the N-17 militant group, which Greek authorities claimed to have dismantled in 2002. However, should an examination of the evidence determine that the rocket matches those used in the earlier N-17 attacks, then authorities will have proof that the group survived, albeit under a new name. N-17 was named for the November day in 1973 when the then-ruling junta crushed a student uprising in Athens. The left-wing group, which generally targeted Greek government entities, banks and U.S. interests, lost much public sympathy in 1989 when it killed popular Greek politician Pavlos Bakoyannis. In 2002, Greek police said all core members of the group had been rounded up. Shortly after that, EA came on the scene with a 2003 bombing attack against the Athens courthouse complex. Some analysts speculated at the time that EA was comprised of former N-17 members, although there was no clear evidence to support such a linkage. Authorities could now possess the evidence they need to make a final determination. In 1989, N-17 stole a cache of weapons and ammunition from the Sykourio Greek army camp in central Greece. The cache included 3.5-inch M-28 anti-tank rockets, which were then used by the group in a number of attacks, including a 1996 attack against the U.S. Embassy. Because anti-tank rockets use a shaped charge, the blast effect is directed forward, usually leaving the rocket's tail section intact. By examining the tail, then, investigators can identify the type of rocket used in such an attack. Serial or lot numbers on the tail section often can be used to determine what stocks the ordnance came from. If the number on the rocket used in the embassy attack matches the lot numbers on rockets used by N-17 in its attacks, investigators will have established a solid forensic link between the two groups. The technology used to launch this latest rocket also will be examined for similarity to N-17 rocket attacks. Rockets (like the 3.5-inch super bazooka rounds used by N-17 in the past) can be launched from an improvised launcher in order to give the assailants time to flee the scene. This can be done by using a piece of slow-burning time fuse and a pack of matches that acts as a squib — a small pyrotechnic device often used as a trigger for rockets. An electric squib also can be activated by a timer. Basic things such as the manner in which the improvised launch tube was constructed or the way the firing chain was pieced together can usually provide a fingerprint that investigators can use to link multiple attacks to a bombmaker. The way this device was constructed, then, could also provide evidence linking N-17 to EA. Greek security forces and the U.S. government have an aggressive countersurveillance program in place outside of the U.S. Embassy in Athens. Because of this, the rocket probably was fired remotely or by a timer after the attackers left the scene. Although the M-28 has a range of more than 800 yards, it is not accurate at that range. For an untrained shooter or an improvised launcher to hit its target, the rocket probably would have had to be fired from a launch point within 150 yards of the embassy. The use of a rocket in the embassy attack is a departure from EA's normal tactic of using small bombs or firebombs, as it did in the May 2006 bombing near the home of Greek Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis. Although the Greek government claimed that N-17 had been eradicated, its leadership rounded up and its weapons confiscated, EA could have inherited a significant part of the group's arsenal. This will enable the group to continue its attacks against Greek government targets, banks and U.S. interests in Greece. Like most N-17 and EA attacks, the latest one would not have taken much organizational assistance and could in fact have been carried out by one skilled individual with access to a rocket and some knowledge of explosives and electricity. It is common for militant groups to change their names in order to throw investigators off the track. The remaining N-17 members might have felt the need to abandon the name in the wake of the Greek government's successes against the core group in 2002 — meaning that EA could be N-17 by another name.

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