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Cablegate: Combating Extremism in Greece

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 ATHENS 002529



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/25/2015

REF: STATE 159129

Classified By: Charge Tom Countryman. Reasons 1.4(b/d).

1. (S) SUMMARY: In Greece, the twin threats of extremism and
violence stem more from a decades-old, homegrown anti-U.S.,
anti-NATO, anti-globalization sentiment that is deeply
engrained in Greek society than from extremism exported from
the Middle East. Domestic terrorist groups and an active
anarchist movement have long been the source of extremism and
violence in Greece. Greece's Muslim community is split
between the Turkish minority in the north (protected under
the Treaty of Lausanne), and a relatively new Athens-based
population of economic migrants from the Middle East and
South Asia. Extremist elements are rare in both. Greek
society's insular focus, with its high premium on "Greekness"
and the Orthodox religion, has created a haven for fringe
groups which target non-Greeks (especially Jews) for
violence. Above all, the United States is Public Enemy
Number One in Greece -- domestic extremist groups regularly
target the U.S. embassy to protest against both past history
and current "American hegemony." To counter extremist
attitudes, the Embassy has a multifaceted outreach program,
designed to promote mutual understanding (an MPP goal)
between the U.S. and Greece, and within Greece's increasingly
heteregeneous population. END SUMMARY.

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2. (S) Extremism in Greece is mostly homegrown, and to a
great extent derives from events unique to Greeks. In 1968 a
military junta overthrew the Greek Goverment in a move that
is still widely (if wrongly) held here to have been at the
behest, or with the connivance, of the U.S. Government. The
Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974 is also chalked
up to American hegemonist planning. Since then, a perceived
bias in U.S. policy toward Turkey (and Greece's own identity
problems vis-a-vis 400 years of Ottoman rule) has further
skewed public opinion against the United States. In recent
history, the Kosovo air campaign and Operation Iraqi Freedom
have both been used to keep public hostility toward the U.S.
at a peak.

-- DOMESTIC TERRORISM: "17 November" (17N), a radical leftist
group, was established in 1975 and named for the student
uprising in Greece on 17 November 1973 against the ruling
military junta. It is anti-Greek establishment, anti-U.S.,
anti-Turkey, and anti-NATO, and has sought the ouster of U.S.
bases from Greece, the removal of Turkish military forces
from Cyprus, and the severing of Greece,s ties to NATO and
the European Union. For 27 years, 17N murdered Greeks and
non-Greeks alike, including five U.S. Embassy employees.
Members of the organization also committed armed robbery, and
carried out rocket attacks against symbolic targets. In 2002
a bungled attack by a 17N operative led to the arrests of
eighteen other suspects. In 2004, fifteen of these 17N
defendants were found guilty and given multiple life
sentences. Some 17N members, including individuals believed
to be involved in the murder of USG employees, remain at
large; others have never been identified. Further, other
domestic terrorist groups continue to operate in Greece, and
while they have not attained the murderous notoriety of 17N,
they serve as a beacon for the extremist segment of the Greek
population. ELA (Revolutionary Popular Struggle) has
described itself as revolutionary, leftist, anti-state,
anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and strongly anti-U.S. ELA
emerged in the 1970s and has assumed responsibility for over
200 bombing that killed three people. In the 90s, ELA
stopped operations in Greece. Four members of ELA were
arrested in 2004. All four were convicted and each received
an imprisonment of 1,174 years. One member, Christos
Tsigarides has since been released from prison for health
reasons. In 2005 two other members were tried for ELA
actions (both were acquitted).

Recently, two groups, "Revolutionary Action" and
"Revolutionary Struggle" have appeared on the Greek domestic
terrorism radar (it is unclear as yet whether these are, in
fact, two separate groups). Some of Greece's CT elite
believe that one group ("Revolutionary Action") is a
successor to 17N. "Revolutionary Struggle" is considered to
be the successor to ELA, having simply dropped the "Popular"
from its title. "Revolutionary Struggle" has claimed
responsibility for a number of small bombings at various
Greek businesses, in which improvised explosive devices are
always the weapon of choice. These attacks take place in the
early morning hours and rarely cause injuries. There have
been a few victims inadvertently injured as a result of being
in the right place at the right time. This group usually
warns the Hellenic Police prior to detonation, however faulty
workmanship occasionally leads to premature explosions.
"Revolutionary Action" has claimed responsibility for a
number of more serious attacks directed solely at the
Hellenic Police. In the fall of 2003, two devices exploded
at a Greek Court in Athens, the second device clearly
designed to harm first responders. In May 2004 three devices
were exploded at a police precinct in Kallithea (Athens) and
again the seond/third devices seemed to be intended to cause
harm to first responders. In October 2004 a roadside device
was detonated as it was passed by a Hellenic Police bus
convoy that was in route to Korydallos Prison, the current
residence of incarcerated 17N members. There were no
injuries, likely due to poor workmanship of the device. The
most recent, and most disturbing, attack occurred on December
31, 2004, when a Special Police Guard, assigned to the
residence of the British Military Attach was assassinated
while sitting in his guard booth. Hellenic Police originally
claimed that the attack was criminal in nature, but have
subsequently attributed the attack to local terrorism. This
case, as well as the others is still open and it appears that
there are no suspects.

-- ANARCHISM: Anarchist organizations proliferate in Athens
and Thessaloniki where they have carved out niches for
themselves as extreme, leftist "irregulars." Greek
anarchists organize regular demonstrations in the name of
anti-globalization, and against the U.S. specifically and the
more ambiguous "Western influence." For the most part,
anarchist demonstrations are sparsely attended (although
well-covered in the generally anti-American media).
Gas-canister ("gazakia" in Greek) attacks have been
orchestrated to destroy property, not people. Embassy has no
evidence that anarchist groups receive material support
and/or training from international terrorist groups. Like
the domestic terror groups, however, anarchist gatherings
serve to keep alive extremist views.

-- ANTI-SEMITISM: During World War II, 90 percent of Greece's
Jewish population perished in camps. Today, only 5,000 Jews
remain in Greece, mainly in Athens. While of a smaller scale
compared to other European countries, anti-Semitism is a
recurring problem in Greece, expressed by acts of vandalism
against Jewish monuments and buildings, insidious
anti-Semitism in some media and through discrimination in the
workplace. Some Greeks subscribe to the myth that no Jews
were in the World Trade Center on September 11, or are
convinced that the attacks were a plot of the CIA, the
Mossad, or both. Greek newspapers, especially editorial
cartoonists, are unforgiving in their use of Nazi imagery to
describe Ariel Sharon and Israeli government policies in Gaza
and the West Bank. At the same time, Greece has longstanding
ties to the Palestinian cause and Arafat personally; Greece
was the last member of the EU to establish diplomatic
relations with Israel (1990). In modern colloquial Greek (as
in the modern Arab world) there is often no distinction
between "Jewish" and "Israeli." The problem is compounded by
almost universal opposition to Israeli policies in the
Occupied Territories.

3. (C) As an example of Greek extremist attitudes, the
Popular Orthodox Herald Party (LAOS) promotes radical
nationalism, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. LAOS
party leader George Karatzaferis, who won a seat in the
European Parliament in 2004, regularly attributes negative
events to international Jewish conspiracies and has used
party-owned TV to denounce Greek politicians with Jewish
origins and to claim that Jews were behind the 9/11 terrorist
attacks. The Greek neo-Nazi group "Chryssi Avghi" (Golden
Dawn), attempted to organize "Hatefest 2005" (one of the
slogans for the event was "Turkey Out of Europe"), a
pan-European "festival" for the Far Right in southern Greece.
On a positive note, the event, after vigorous local
opposition, was moved several times and ultimately out of


4. (C) Greece has a native Muslim minority of
Turkish-speakers, anywhere from 90,000-140,000 strong who
live in the northeastern province of Thrace and in the
islands of the far eastern Aegean near Turkey. Under the
1923 Treaty of Lausanne, this Turcophone Muslim minority has
official status; Islam is recognized and Muslims in Thrace
have the right to maintain social and charitable
organizations, to be educated in the Turkish-language and to
settle family disputes under Shari'a law (Greece is the only
country in Europe to do so). Officials say more than 300
mosques operate under Lausanne Treaty privileges. While
Muslim clerics in Thrace have been trained in Saudi Arabia,
and Turkish Consuls General in Thrace have a strong
influence, bankrolling many local leaders and the "elected"
muftis in the region, there is no indication of Muslim
extremism among the indigenous minority in Thrace.

5. (C) Unlike in Thrace, the Muslim community in Athens has
no treaty protection or guaranteed rights. In the last
fifteen years, migration to Greece from Muslim countries has
mushroomed -- activists believe there could be as many as
200,000 Muslim migrants (mainly illegals) in Athens, in
addition to 4,000 Turcophone Greek Muslims. There is no
official mosque in Athens, so Muslims pray in numerous
unofficial prayer rooms. There are around two dozen such
prayer rooms operating in Athens today. They are organized
in basement apartments and generally serve discrete
populations: Pakistani migrants go to a "Pakistani" mosque,
Egyptians go to an "Egyptian" mosque, and so forth. Leaders
of the Bangladeshi community have told us there is a limited
amount of crossover in their worship. Although the Greek
Parliament (finally) approved a bill in 2000 allowing
construction of a mosque in Athens, the Arbchishop of Greece
has strongly protested that the cultural center would "serve
as a breeding ground for terrorism."


6. (C) Embassy has made good use of the IV program --
sending the only Muslim Member of Parliament on the "Young
Muslim Leaders" International Visitor Program in FY 2005. We
will send a Muslim woman from Thrace to the Young Muslim
Leaders program in FY 2006.

7. (C) The Embassy (POL, RSO) monitors closely hate speech
and activities through local contacts, police contacts, and
the media. We monitor Islam-related incitement and hate
speech through additional contact with muftis, imams, and
members of Muslim minority in Thrace, as well as with the
diverse and more transient immigrant Muslim population in
Athens. There are no indications or incitement or hate
speech directed against Muslims occurring in Athens.

8. (U) The Embassy has undertaken a series of outreach
activities oriented at the Muslim population in Greece. We
opened an American Corner in Xanthi, a town in northeast
Greece that is predominantly Muslim, and the IRC regularly
sends material to Xanthi as part of the Embassy's
country-wide outreach program. Ambassador hosts a yearly
Iftar dinner. Ambassador and Embassy officers have spoken to
student groups on U.S. policy in the Middle East, including
students from Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries. Embassy
and ConGen officers meet regularly with Muslim religious and
community leaders in Thrace and Athens. Cultural program
opportunities will be utilized in 2006.

9. (U) As noted, the Embassy sent Ilhan Ahmet, the one
Muslim Member of the Greek Parliament, on an IV program this
year. His website, www.ilhanahmet.com, is in Turkish and
Greek. (NOTE: Greek usage of the world wide web is the
lowest in the EU. END NOTE.) Building on Ahmet's IV program,
we have helped develop a farming seminar to meet the needs of
Muslim farmers in northern Greece.


10. (S) The Greek Government's track record in countering
extremism is uneven. 17N operated with impunity for 27
years, counting Greek police and government officials among
its victims. The Olympic Games provided a much-needed
incentive to bring Greek methods and operations into the 21st
century. As a result, Greece now has more tools and know-how
to keep track of extremist groups in Greek society. These
skills, however, are perishable and require routine follow-up
training. We do not believe such training has continued
since the Olympics. Furthermore, we are skeptical as to
whether or not the Hellenic Police are pursuing Islamic
extremists in Greece with that same "pre-Olympic" vigor.
Greek society also views enhanced police capabilities with a
jaundiced eye. Greeks are hypersensitive to any perceived
limits on personal freedoms; as an example, security cameras
around town have been vandalized. Members of Parliament have
also inveighed against their use; attempts to pass off the
cameras as trafficams have been only partly successful.

11. (C) Recently, the GoG appears to have taken a greater
interest in moving against self-styled "anti-imperialist"
anarchists who operate mainly in central Athens. In an
August meeting, Public Order Minister Voulgarakis,
responsible for police, promised to crack down on violent
anarchist activity, telling the Ambassador that the July
arrest of three anarchists had produced evidence that would
result in convictions and more arrests in the future.
Thessaloniki police have estimated there are 50-70 local
anarchists who regularly incite violence. Recently, the
Ministry of Public Order has called the Greek judiciary to
task for a lack of prosecutions of the hundreds of anarchists
arrested during the many destructive and violent
demonstrations held in both Athens and Thessaloniki.
12. (C) The Government attempted to ignore "Hatefest 2005"
until the outcry from Greek citizens became too loud. At
that point, Greek Government Spokesman Roussopoulos stated
that the GoG would take all measures to prevent the
"Hatefest" gathering. Public Order Minister Voulgarakis
seconded Roussopoulos' comments, saying the event was not

13. (C) The Government has taken steps to combat
anti-Semitism, and has begun to press for membership on the
International Task Force on Holocaust Education. However, it
was in part the result of heavy Embassy pressure that Greece
established January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2004.
The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece constantly
lobbies for moderation, tolerance, and freedom. The Greek
Jewish community says the greatest problem faced by local
Jews is the widespread perception that they are not truly
"Greek." The Greek constitution enshrines Greek Orthodoxy as
the official religion and the country's non-Orthodox
minorities - Jews, Turcophone Muslims, Catholics, and other
Christians - report difficulty advancing in careers in the
military, education, and the public sector. It's not
accurate to paint the Orthodox Church as anti-Semitic, but it
is so virulently pro-Orthodox that the distinction is often

14. (C) As is the norm in the EU, Greece has a modern
education system that accepts pluralism and open intellectual
exchange. Universities do, however, serve as recruiting
centers (and worse) for anarchists. As a result of the 1973
student uprising against the military junta ruling Greece,
Greece passed a law prohibiting police on university
campuses. As recently as May 2005, anarchists took hostages
at the Athens Polytechnic University and held them for more
than eight hours as a protest against the presence on campus
of armed bodyguards who had accompanied two Members of
Parliament to the university for a book presentation (the 2
MPs, both former Cabinet Ministers, were among the hostages).
Prior to the actual standoff, anarchists detected that
police assigned to protect 2 MPs attending the event) were on
campus in violation of government regulations. The
anarchists proceeded to attack the police and one policeman
shot an attacker in the leg, in an effort to protect himself.
The standoff ended peacefully, but the university academic
board published a condemnation of the "police action" and
called on Greeks to protest against the government. There
was very little negative press that condemned the violence of
the anarchists.

15. (U) As part of Greece's effort to join the International
Task Force on Holocaust Education, the Greek Ministry of
Education and Religious Affairs has requested Post's
assistance in re-designing its curricula to update teaching
of the Holocaust.

16. (U) Public (State) education is readily accessible,
particularly for women and girls. Minority education is
fully funded by the State, which funds madrassas where there
are significant Muslim communities. In recent years, these
madrassas have been opened to girls (who are required to wear

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