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Friday, January 12, 2007

Suspected Greek militants fire rocket at U.S. embassy

ATHENS (Reuters) - Suspected leftist guerrillas fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. embassy in Athens on Friday in the boldest attack staged by leftwing militants in years.

The blast shattered windows and woke up nearby residents in the central Athens area at 5:58 AM (0358 GMT) but no one was hurt, police said.

The grenade was launched just across the street from the heavily guarded embassy building, which is surrounded by a 3-metre-high (9-feet-high) steel fence, and authorities were dealing with the attack as a serious act of violence.

It was the worst assault on the U.S. mission, often the target of Greek protests and demonstrations, for 10 years.

"There are one or two anonymous phone calls which claim that the Revolutionary Struggle was behind the attack," Public Order Minister Byron Polydoras told reporters outside the embassy. "Most likely, it is an act by local perpetrators."

The leftist guerrilla group has emerged as the most serious domestic threat since the dismantling of the deadly November 17 group in 2002. It claimed an assassination attempt against Greece's culture minister in May and a bomb at the Economy Ministry which wounded two people 13 months ago.

"I am treating this as a very serious attack," U.S. ambassador to Athens, Charles Ries, told reporters. "The embassy was attacked in a senseless act of violence."

Police said an east European-made RPG-18 rocket launcher was used to fire the grenade, which landed inside a toilet on the third floor, slightly damaging the glass facade and ceiling. The portable launcher has not been found.

The embassy building has guards posted at every entrance and at street corners around it.


"It was a huge explosion, the ground shook. I woke up and rushed to the balcony to see what happened," a local resident, who was not identified, told Greek TV.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni went to the embassy to meet Ries and condemn the attack.

"The minister sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, unequivocally condemning the attack and declaring the government's absolute will to root out terrorism," Foreign Ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos said.

Greek opposition parties also denounced the attack, saying it would only hurt Greece's interests and its image abroad while a government spokesman said Greece would hunt down those behind it.

In February 1996, November 17 claimed responsibility for a rocket attack at the back of the embassy compound, which damaged three diplomatic cars and some surrounding buildings.

Once Greece's biggest security threat, the group was dismantled two years before the Athens 2004 Olympics. It had staged hundreds of bombings, shootings and rocket attacks, and killed U.S. and other foreign diplomats in Greece.

In November last year, Greek riot police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators marching to the embassy, chanting slogans including "Bush the butcher, out of
Iraq" and "The USA is the real terrorist."
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