ATHENS -- A fugitive terrorist implicated in the deaths of dozens of people, including two U.S. officials, vowed Monday to take up armed action again, threatening to reopen a bloody chapter of Greek history authorities thought they had closed a decade ago.
Christodoulos Xiros, 55, posted a video of himself on the Internet nearly two weeks after he escaped while on furlough from a maximum-security prison in Athens. He was serving a life sentence as part of the 1,376-year prison term he received in 2003 for taking part in six political assassinations and dozens of bomb attacks as a leading member of the left-wing November 17 urban guerrilla group.
His escape, a week into a nine-day prison leave, sparked a massive manhunt. It also dismayed the U.S., which has urged Greece to recapture the terrorist who killed two of its embassy officials, including the defense attache in Athens in 1988.
The video of the burly Xiros and his belligerent rhetoric sent a shudder through Greece, embarrassing the government and rekindling fears of a revival of homegrown terrorism.
Wearing a bright red sweater and seated squarely against the backdrop of images of various revolutionaries, including Che Guevara, Xiros said he was resuming the armed struggle that November 17 engaged in before it was disbanded in 2002. Xiros presented himself as a latter-day Robin Hood, punishing the rich on behalf of the poor in Greece, whose economy remains in depression after two international bailouts.
“Better one hour of freedom than 40 years in prison as a slave,” he said. “I have taken the decision once more to blast my guerrilla rifle against those who steal our lives and our dreams to make a profit.”
Xiros' five-minute rant on the government's handling of Greece's financial crisis and the media's allegedly slavish coverage of it was posted along with the five-page text of his proclamation.
Counterterrorism officials contacted Monday said they had no doubt about the authenticity of the video, a high-tech upgrade from the group’s trademark proclamations written on a manual typewriter and emblazoned with the November 17 symbol of a red star.
It remained unclear whether Xiros, once a maker of musical instruments by day and a lethal hit man by night, was acting independently or with the support of his jailed cohorts.
“It could just be a symbolic effort on his part alone,” said Brady Keisling, a former senior U.S. diplomat and authority on November 17. Still, he added, “with so much public disaffection, it won’t be hard finding fringe remnants of the group to link up with.”
Mixing Marxist-Leninist ideology with nationalistic rhetoric, November 17 catapulted onto Greece’s turbulent political landscape in 1975, gunning down Richard Welch, the
November 17 claimed responsibility for the deaths of four Americans in Athens. Xiros was convicted in the killings of two of them: diplomat Ronald O. Stewart and Navy Capt. William Nordeen.
In extensive references to the financial crisis, Xiros played on widespread anti-German sentiment and resentment against Berlin's insistence on brutal austerity to rein in Greece's runaway budget deficit in return for bailout money from the European community.
"Greece and other European countries have become mere colonies under German occupation," he said, then lambasted the ruling coalition government for acceding to Berlin's demands. "Whatever you do, very soon the river of rage will swell and will drown you, the scum destroying the Greek people."