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Greek Court Convicts 15 in November 17 Group Assassinations - 2003-12-08

A Greek anti-terrorism court has convicted 15 members of a shadowy radical Marxist group, including its leader and chief gunman, for their role in a spree of murders and other crimes that spanned nearly three decades. It may be the final chapter in the saga of the revolutionary group that called itself November 17.

The elusive group, which took its name from the date of a failed 1973 student uprising against the military junta that ruled Greece at the time, killed 23 people over 25 years and carried out a string of bombings, rocket attacks and bank robberies.

The group taunted and evaded police for years until a botched bombing last year led to the capture of one of its members and a hunt that led to the arrest of several others.

After a nine-month trial, a panel of three judges Monday convicted 15 of the 19 defendants on charges ranging from murder to illegal possession of weapons. The other four were acquitted.

Sentencing is expected when the court reconvenes on Wednesday. Some of those convicted face multiple life sentences.

November 17 targeted U.S., British and Turkish diplomats as well as Greek politicians and businessmen for assassination.

Among those convicted Monday were Alexandros Giotopoulos, an academic who was the group's leader, and Dimitris Koufodinas, a beekeeper known as "poison hand," who was found guilty of carrying out many of its assassinations.

November 17's first victim was Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens. He was gunned down as he returned home from a Christmas party in 1975. Its last victim was Brigadier Stephen Saunders, the British defense attaché, who was shot to death 25 years later.

A lawyer for relatives of some of the group's victims, Sakis Kehayioglu, said he is satisfied that justice has been done. "Today, justice has been given to the victims of terrorism. The fight is not over yet, and the parliament, the [political] parties and the people, the Greek people, they have to continue to fight against terrorism," he said.

Greece was, in past years, accused of lacking the will to crack down on November 17, so the results of the trial are being seen in Athens as a boost for its terrorist-fighting image ahead of its hosting of the Olympic Games next August.

Greek officials say that now, with November 17 apparently dismantled, they will focus on international terrorist threats to the Olympics, such as those emanating from al-Qaida.