Strong Reactions after November 17 Hitman granted prison release

by Aggelos Skordas

Political upheaval was triggered on Thursday in Greece after a judicial council’s decision to grant a two-day release to convicted “November 17” hitman Dimitris Koufodinas. The decision was fiercely criticised by opposition parties as well as foreign diplomats. Koufodinas, identified as the far-left urban guerilla organisation’s chief of operations, surrendered to the Greek authorities on September 2002 following the arrest of other members of “17N”. He was convicted for eleven murderous hits and is serving 11 life sentences since March 2003, when the group’s trial commenced.

Fifty-nine year old Koufodinas, a former mathematician and beekeeper, was granted leave from Korydallos Prison for the first time in 15 years after repeated requests were denied by the judicial panel. He was received by friends, relatives and supporters belonging to Greece’s anti-establishment movement. While exiting the high security prison “17N” hitman made no statements, although, his lawyer, Ioanna Kourtovik, said her client’s appeal was finally approved due to his good behavior. As she underlined, though, his “philosophical and ideological beliefs” had not changed. Koufodinas has defended his actions and has repeatedly said he has no remorse. Government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos defended the decision as it is in accordance with the existing legal framework.

Dimitris Koufodinas

After his leave Koufodinas headed to his wife’s house in a semi-rural area near Athens and according to the terms of his furlough, he must report to the local police station twice a day. It should be noted that in 2014, 17N convict Christodoulos Xeros had escaped during a release. Xeros was on the run for several months before being re-arrested in early 2015.

The development caused opposition’s fierce reaction. Main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his outrage. “I speak as a shocked citizen that sees the greatest terrorist, an unrepentant assassin, ‘the gun of 17N terror group’ getting out of prison”, he characteristically said addressing the Greek Parliament. The decision had come at the worst possible time, when lawlessness and violence were on the rise, he added. Mitsotakis sister, Dora Bakoyannis’ husband was among the victims of 17N. “A man who murdered 11 people… should not be leaving prison”, To Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis underlined.

The judicial panel’s decision was also criticised by the US and British ambassadors, as among Koufodinas victims were nationals of the two countries. “I add my voice to those from across Greece’s political spectrum deploring prison council decision to release a convicted terrorist, murderer and 17N leader. Our democracies rest on independent judicial institutions, but today’s furlough dishonors the victims’ memory and their families”, US envoy Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted attaching a picture of a plaque bearing the names of five US mission members killed by 17N. On his behalf, British ambassador to Athens Kate Smith highlighted that even though her country respects the independence of Greek Justice, British people “are deeply disappointed by the decision to grant a furlough from prison to a terrorist murderer, and we share the pain caused by this decision to the families of the victims”. In 2000, British military attaché Stephen Saunders was the group’s last victim.

Self proclaimed “Revolutionary Organisation November 17” was formed in 1975 and was named after the day of the 1973 Athens Polytechnic uprising against the military junta. Until 2002, when it was disbanded due to a series of arrests following an unsuccessful bombing attack in Pireaus, its members assassinated 23 people and carried out a total of 103 attacks.

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