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Greece Blocks Iranian From Plotting to Arm Asylum Seekers

FILE - Greek Army soldiers detain a group of migrants that crossed from Turkey to Greece, near the village of Protoklisi, in the region of Evros, Greece, March 10, 2020.

In Greece, the case of an Iranian migrant now jailed on charges of inciting an insurrection is highlighting the Greek government’s rising concerns about a flare-up of clashes involving migrants along Greece’s border with Turkey. Greek authorities say the Iranian man — a self-described anarchist — was urging groups in Greece to arm asylum seekers trying to enter Europe from Turkey. The man, if convicted, faces a stiff sentence of up to ten years in prison.

Greek counter-terrorism forces say they arrested the 23-year-old Iranian national in central Athens after he posted a call for an armed insurrection on a website that is often visited by homegrown extremists and urban guerrilla groupings.

Authorities say the unidentified man describes himself as a migrant anarchist and they say he has not denied the criminal charges set against him — among the stiffest slapped on a migrant in recent years.

Greek intelligence officials say Greece granted the man political asylum three years ago and that he has since then established a militant profile, linking up with a far-left extremist group in Greece.

Left-wing groups in Greece have long supported asylum seekers, advocating their safe passage — and their right to stay in Europe. But in his online calling, the Iranian went a step further, urging anarchists to help arm migrants, take to the streets and renew clashes with authorities in northern Greece to help tens of thousands trapped in Turkey stream in to Europe.

Authorities in Athens say they have not established links between that plot and Turkey.

But the Iranian’s arrest here and the severity of the charges laid against him underscore Greece’s desperate bid to stamp out any potential flare up of migrant clashes along the country’s borders with Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flung open the borders to migrants heading for Europe in late February after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in an air raid in Syria.

FILE - Migrants walk in Edirne at the Turkish-Greek border, March 9, 2020.
FILE - Migrants walk in Edirne at the Turkish-Greek border, March 9, 2020.

Turkey last week said it moved 5,800 migrants away from the border crossing at Edirne province where they had been massing, citing concerns over the threat of coronavirus.

The move was interpreted by some in Greece as a reversal by Ankara. But Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told an independent broadcaster the move did not represent a policy change.

"Once the COVID-19 crisis is over, the Turkish government will not block migrants from returning to the border," he said.

Although Greek authorities have not established a link between the Iranian migrant and the Turkish government, they worry about how Ankara may use the nearly four million Syrian refugees now inside Greece.

Ioannis Mazis, an international relations analyst in Athens, said Greece has already seen Turkey using tens of thousands of migrants as pawns in the recent border clashes. He said the Turkish government has even admitted that it has orchestrated much of the border violence. So, threats of further clashes should not be underestimated, Mazis added.

By some accounts, as many 150,000 migrants and refugee tried to push into Europe last month. Greece says it succeeded in fending off more than 50,000, while many others managed to sneak in.