Greek Police dismantling terror network: important issues about terrorism in Greece – by  Maria Chr. Alvanou

Α big police operation in Greece dismantled in February what seemed to be a network carrying out terror operations, including an envelope with explosives sent to the Courthouse in Thessaloniki (the second largest city of the country).

The explosion was prevented by sheer luck, as the envelope was not initially detected as suspicious; it had arrived and stayed for many days on the office desk of the high rank judge that was the recipient[1]. The results of the police operation were the arrests of convicts inside prison facilities who were cooperating with other suspects, arrested outside. The suspects include members of the Greek armed forces. The terror group operated under the name “Σύμπραξη Εκδίκησης” (“Revenge Coaction”) and up to now police research seems to consider it responsible for: a. an improvised explosive device in a bank branch in Petralona-Athens, b. an improvised explosive device in a building complex in Kifissia-Athens c. a grenade thrown at a car owned by a prison officer in Haidari-Athens, d. a grenade thrown and an improvised explosive device in Larissa (a big city in Greece)[2]. It remains to be seen if the group is responsible also for other operations that have not been until now. The group is believed to be of antiestablishment/anarchist typology, although it is not that clear at what extent the targets chosen are connected to the ideology of the group or personal grievances and interests. Some first important issues for consideration regarding terrorism in Greece arise from looking at this case:

i. Prisons as terrorism hubs: The mentality “out of sight, out of mind” cannot be part of any security policy. The fact that perpetrators of crime, including terrorism, have been convicted and serve time in prison facilities does not guarantee victory over crime, including terrorism. Especially when it comes to terrorism offences as well as crimes related to any extreme ideology, prisons can function as a hub for radicalisation and recruitment. This is the reason why in many countries for years now deradicalisation/ disengagement programs run. If such programs do not exist, then to put it in plain words, the state remains blind to the reality of prisons becoming breeding ground for new terrorists. Additionally, in the best-case scenario such a shortsighted approach just postpones the activity of terrorists until they come out of prison to resume violence again. Worst case scenario- as it appears in the Greek recent example- terrorist activities are organised and directed from prison facilities. Of course, this last case also brings to surface serious gaps in prison security and monitoring the activities and communication of prisoners inside jail and with the outside world. If convicts can form networking and organise terror (or other criminal) attacks outside jail, then the incapacitation aim of prison has completely failed.

The issue of radicalisation in Greek prisons is of much importance since according to new penal law changes, serving prison sentence becomes a real option even for not serious and violent crimes. Considering the prison system in Greece (as well as the problem of overcrowding in jails) this can be taken advantage by “mentors” inside prison. They will be able with their rhetoric to reach out to more convicts, in some situations young people full of grievances and feelings of injustice due to their incarceration based on the new penal law reality.

A discussion must open also about the type of prisons that should exist in Greece based on its terrorism problem and the level of contact and communication terrorism offenders with common criminals should have. Every system  has advantages and disadvantages. The main disadvantage of prisons that allow contact and communication between terrorism offenders and common criminal law offenders is that the former can radicalise the latter. However, lack of contact and communication can also be a disadvantage because it could make the deradicalisation of terrorists more difficult, as they remain in contact inside jail only with like- minded convicts. So is not so much about what type of prisons exist in a country, but about programs running in prison to give incentives and support deradicalisation and prevent radicalisation.

ii. Cooperation between terrorists and common criminals: Terrorists want to spread a message that is connected to their ideology. They want to appear as fighters for a cause, with that cause being beyond petty personal interests. The rhetoric of terrorists is always a “noble cause”, according to their ideology. Hence, terrorists have always tried to underline their difference to common criminals. They are outlaws only because the laws of the system are unjust, not because they are criminals.  So, in principle terrorists should stay away from common criminals. However, in practice, often things are different. Terrorists can and do cooperate with common criminals and they can even themselves carry out crimes of the “common criminal law” to support and sustain economically the group and its operations. There are no red lines in terrorism and an example of “whitewashing” common crime is giving it a different name (e.g. robberies can be named a type of “expropriation” by anarchists/far leftist terrorists[3]). In that sense common criminals can very well be considered and presented by terrorists as fellow outlaws resisting and opposing the establishment and its legal rules. And this is another reason why prison environment when there is communication between common criminals and terrorists must be monitored.

iii. Officials in the criminal justice system as terrorism targets: Judges, police officers and prison personnel can be targeted not only by organised crime perpetrators but also by terrorists. They par excellence represent the state and its apparatus, as well as its force. This is why they would probably fit better the target list of terrorist groups with a political ideology and aim opposing the state. This makes courthouses, police stations and prison facilities a target, but it can be that such officials can be attacked in settings of their life outside public service. Thus, their house, or any place they may frequent and be present at any time can be in the terror operation plan.  One important point to remember is that targeting such officials does not just have a symbolic parameter. Such attacks could have a “revenge character”, with terrorists attacking e.g. judges involved in trials convicting them or other members of their group or other group (an expression of “solidarity” towards other “fellow terrorists”.

iv. Military personnel in terror groups: Thinking about terror operations and the knowhow terrorists need for certain types of attacks, especially when it comes to using explosives, one may immediately think about collaboration with common criminals or training provided by them. However, veterans, ex or active members of armed forces can serve here as key persons, with access to weapons, explosives and of course the necessary operational knowledge.  The big question regards the reason of armed forces personnel collaborating with terror groups. One reason could be money, the other one, more puzzling, is ideological or other affiliation to the terrorist group. A collaboration with nationalistic/far right terrorist groups, or even religious terrorist groups is not that odd. After all, the role of military has been discussed for a long time now e.g. in the United States[4] regarding right-wing extremists and hate-motivated groups. But the collaboration of members of the armed forces with antiestablishment/anarchist terrorist groups that usually loath and reject the role of the military in society seems odd.  This is an area that needs further research and details about how the connection was made between those members of the armed forces with the terror network.

There seems in the last period to be a resurgence of terrorism in Greece and the Global Terrorism Index 2023 puts the country in the 34th position globally, above all other European Union member states[5]. The recent police operation is bringing to our attention many issues that require attention to fully understand the characteristics and the extent of the terrorism phenomenon in Greece and its future potential. To prevent further escalation and stop the dynamic of terrorism it is imperative to map the environments where radicalisation to terrorism takes place, identify the vulnerable population for radicalisation and interfere with adequate measures to prevent and/or disrupt radicalisation processes and terrorist operation plans.



[3] In Greece the term “expropriation” has been often used by anarchist terrorists, when referring to bank robberies.

[4] See  for example the October 13, 2021 Statement by Dr. Seth G. Jones before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs  titled “Violent Domestic Extremist Groups and the Recruitment of Veterans.”,