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Gunmen seriously wound Greek police officer

Gunmen shot and seriously wounded a policeman in Athens on Monday, the second such attack since police shot dead a teenager last month prompting Greece's worst riots in decades.
Greece Police Shooting
Forensic experts investigate the area where a police officer was seriously wounded during an attack by gunmen in Athens on Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Petros Giannakouris / AP
/ Source: news services

Greek anti-terror police are investigating an attack Monday against riot police in Athens that severely wounded a policeman and raised fears of a resurgence of domestic terrorism.

At least two gunmen sprayed riot police with automatic weapons fire outside the Culture Ministry before dawn Monday. Authorities said the attack may be linked to an extreme left-wing group that fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. embassy in Athens two years ago.

The shooting was a severe escalation in violence even after Greece was hit in December by its worst riots in decades, sparked by the fatal police shooting of a teenager on Dec. 6.

For two weeks after the 15-year-old boy's death in Athens' often volatile Exarchia district, masked protesters frequently attacked police with gasoline bombs and rocks in near daily riots but caused no serious injuries.

Shooting to kill
But police officials and politicians say the perpetrators of Monday's attack, which also took place in Exarchia, were shooting to kill.

"They wanted to kill someone in uniform. They sprayed our colleagues with gunfire," said Stratos Mavroidakos, the head of a police officers' association.

"People were instigated into taking this action by the prevailing climate," Mavroidakos added, referring to the violent demonstrations in December when youths chanting "Cops, pigs, murderers!" clashed with riot police, set up burning street barricades and torched banks and stores.

"This is what happens when you have 12-year-old children at demonstrations calling police 'murderers'" he said. "These events have set us back 20 years."

Gunfire and a grenade
Authorities say more than 30 shots were fired — at least 27 from a Kalashnikov-type automatic rifle, and another four from a 9 mm caliber weapon. The attackers also threw a hand grenade. Policeman Diamandis Matzounis, 21, suffered two gunshot wounds and was listed in critical but stable condition.

Ballistics tests showed both firearms had been used in attacks before, police said.

The 9 mm weapon was used in an April 2007 attack on a suburban police station by a domestic extremist group known as Revolutionary Struggle, which also targeted the U.S. Embassy in Athens with a rocket-propelled grenade two years ago.

Using one particular weapon as a signature was one of the trademarks of Greece's deadliest terrorist group, November 17, which killed 23 people in shootings and bombings between 1975 and 2002 before a botched bombing led police to capture several members.

After the Jan. 2007 attack against the U.S. Embassy in Athens, the U.S. offered a $1 million reward, saying Revolutionary Struggle "is believed to be an offshoot" of November 17.

Greek police chief Lt. Gen. Vassilis Tsiatouras said the Kalashnikov-type rifle used Monday had also been used before — in a Dec. 23 attack on a riot police bus as it passed a university campus.

At least six serious attacks have been carried out by Greek radical groups in the past five years, including two bombings and the fatal shooting of a policeman. Most were claimed by Revolutionary Struggle.