The execution-style murder of two members of the far-right extremist Golden Dawn party in Athens has police scrambling to find out who was responsible amid worries it could be the work of terrorists and spark a round of retaliation.
Surveillance footage shows a helmeted gunman getting off a motorcycle on November 1st and calmly walking over to four Golden Dawn guards in front of a party office in a busy Athens neighborhood, opening fire at point-blank range.
Giorgos Fountoulis, 26, and Manolis Kapelonis, 22, were fatally shot where they stood, while two others ran away. One of them, Alexandros Gerontas, was seriously wounded.
The murders came six weeks after a 34-year-old anti-fascist, Pavlos Fyssas, was fatally stabbed in a bar fight. Police arrested a man linked to Golden Dawn and charged him in the killing, leading to a government crackdown on the party and the arrest of six of its 18 MP’s, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, on charges of running a criminal gang. He and three others have been detained pending trial.
“I don’t think that Greece is going to be destabilized by such an attack. What I am afraid of is a repetition of this, so prevention by the police authorities is paramount,” Ioannis Michaletos, an associate at the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defence Analysis, told SETimes.
He said it was “a well-executed hit, a resurgence of domestic terrorism of an evolved form and the attack signalled for the first time in Greece violence directed against ordinary party members and not someone with political clout or influence.”
Authorities initially felt the murders may have been revenge for the killing of Fyssas but soon said they believed it was more likely done by an offshoot of terrorist groups who said they are targeting judges, politicians, journalists, symbols of capitalism and enemies of anarchists.
Police, including anti-terrorist units, are reportedly focusing on a tight circle of suspects linked to attacks that have been claimed by the Sect of Revolutionaries, a terrorist group believed to have been inactive since the murder of the journalist Sokratis Giolias in July 2010.
Police said they believe the Golden Dawn killings were likely carried out by a new organization comprising the sect and other guerrilla groups such as Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire, raising worries that disparate terrorist organizations may be working together. (A new terror group, the Fighting Popular Revolutionary Forces later claimed responsibility and said the killings were vengeance for Fyssas and they would continue to target Golden Dawn).
The two sets of murders has roiled Greek society, reviving fears of ancient left vs. right feuds and set political rivals against each other again just as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ conservative-led coalition government was in intense negotiations with international lenders over delayed reforms and how to fill a looming gap of 2.9 billion euros in the 2014 budget.
Tensions in Greece are already high over the prospect of more austerity measures that led to another general strike and protests as the country continued to reel in a deep recession with record unemployment.
“This is the very essence of what could be characterized as the vicious cycle of blood. After the murder of Fyssas by Golden Dawn members, a terrorist activity against Golden Dawn was a matter of time. I didn’t expect such a brutal assassination,” Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist at Panteion University who has studied the party, told Southeast European Times.
“I don’t think that this will destabilise the country. Only in case Golden Dawn will react on the same level and attack immigrants or mostly left parties and groups,” he said, noting that the extremists have been accused of going after both, which it has denied.
Parliament lifted parliamentary immunity for Golden Dawn MPs who were arrested in the aftermath of the Fyssas murder, but there was relative quiet from the party as its popularity plunged. Unlike its frequent boisterous rallies with verbal assaults on immigrants, gays, Jews, capitalists and other of its perceived enemies, protests after the murders of two of its members were muted.
The government is also moving to strip the party of its state funding but said it would restore police guards to party MPs and headquarters who had been removed only three days before Fyssas’ murder after Golden Dawn leaders complained the lack of protection was responsible for the killings of its men.
There is anxiety that the murders could create sympathy for Golden Dawn. John Nomikos, an anti-terrorist analyst who heads the Research Institute for European and American Studies in Athens, told SETimes: “The terrorist act … managed to increase the sympathy of the angry, unemployed and desperate middle class voters.”
(Used by permission of Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com)