Anti-establishment protesters raise their hands at the top of the Athens University building during an occupation, in central Athens, on March 30. The banner reads: ‘Victory for the hunger strike of the political prisoners.’ Photo: Orestis Panagiotou/European Pressphoto Agency
Greece’s far-left government already has botched negotiations with the country’s creditors and raised questions about its strategic reliability by cozying up to Vladimir Putin. Now Athens is set to release a convicted terrorist from prison.
Savvas Xiros is serving five life terms for his role in assassinations by Greece’s November 17 terrorist group. They include the murders of U.S. military officers William Nordeen and Ronald Stewart, in 1988 and 1991, respectively; a rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in 1996; and the 2000 shooting death of British military attache Stephen Saunders.
Other victims include Turkish diplomats, and the group tried to bomb the German ambassador’s residence in 1999. Greece’s statute of limitations meant no one could be tried for the group’s first known attack, the 1975 assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch, and the 1983 shooting of U.S. Navy Captain George Tsantes and his Greek driver.
Xiros was arrested in June 2002 after a homemade bomb he was carrying exploded in his hands, leaving him deaf and mostly blind. He was the first November 17 member to be caught after the group had operated with impunity for 27 years, and other leaders were quickly identified. His bungle came just in time, since the group had planned bombings against tourists to cause disruption ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Xiros should spend the rest of his life in prison, but the Marxist November 17 has always been lionized on the Greek left. In April the Syriza Party government passed a bill to let seriously disabled prisoners be released to house arrest. Xiros is about the only prisoner in Greece known to be severely enough disabled to qualify, and despite its guise as a prison reform the law is widely understood as a ploy to secure his freedom.
That would be a slap to Greece’s NATO allies in Washington, London and Ankara, and its economic partners in Germany. It also would be dangerous because, despite talk that the group “disbanded” in 2002, its members have never disavowed terrorism. Xiros’s brother Christodoulos, also among the November 17 convicts a decade ago, escaped while on furlough in 2014 and when he was caught in January he was allegedly planning an attack on a prison to free several other convicted terrorists.
U.S. Ambassador to Greece David Pearce warned in an unusually blunt speech last month that if Savvas Xiros or any other terrorist who has killed Americans were released, Washington would view it as “a profoundly unfriendly act.” The fact that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is willing to imperil relations with allies to assuage radicals within his party speaks volumes about the quality of his leadership.