Suspected Leaders of Greek Terrorist Group Go on Trial

From Times Wire Services

The alleged masterminds and hit men of Greece's deadly November 17 terrorist group went on trial Monday in a bunker-like courtroom for a campaign of violence that shifted from 1970s Marxist revolt to rage against globalization.

Victims of the organization include U.S., Turkish and British envoys. The group is blamed for more than 100 bombings, a string of armed robberies and 23 killings since it first struck in 1975 with the slaying of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens.

Shortly after proceedings began, Chief Judge Michalis Margaritis ordered the removal of a bulletproof cage shielding the 19 defendants, agreeing with lawyers who complained that the enclosure violated the suspects' right to a fair trial.

There were smiles and applause from the 19, who had waved at friends and relatives as they entered the makeshift courtroom in Athens' Korydallos Prison, where they are being held.

Greek authorities hope the trial will redeem their reputation, tarnished by failure to stop the group for nearly three decades.

The suspects, however, may try to use the proceedings as a public forum after decades of secrecy, analysts said. They could try to wrap themselves in the popular sentiments that underpinned many November 17 manifestoes: a sense that average Greeks have always suffered at the hands of big nations and economic interests.

The group's early acts were attempts at revenge against Greece's 1967-74 military junta, which was backed by the U.S. Its name comes from the date of a 1973 student-led uprising that helped bring down the dictatorship. Later, the group targeted symbols of globalization, including McDonald's restaurants and multinational banks.

A botched bombing in June 2002 gave police their first break. A wave of arrests followed, and many Greeks were stunned at the common faces that emerged: laborers, a schoolteacher, a bus driver, a painter and an amateur beekeeper. The suspects face life sentences if convicted.

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