Greek policeman shot as riot unit targeted

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The Independent Online

Gunmen attacked a riot police unit in Athens today, seriously wounding a 21-year-old policeman in an escalation of violence after the fatal police shooting of a teenager last month sparked Greece's worst riots in decades.

The pre-dawn attack was aimed at a riot police unit stationed outside the Culture Ministry in the centre of the capital, police spokesman Panagiotis Stathis said, adding that the policeman is in a serious condition in hospital.

The policeman was being treated for two gunshot wounds, one to the thigh and one near the shoulder, and was undergoing surgery in a central Athens hospital, Panos Efstathiou, head of the Health Ministry's operations centre, said on state television.

A police official, who asked not to be named because the information had not yet been officially released, said two men — one of them armed with a Kalashnikov-type automatic rifle — had sprayed the police unit with gunfire.

The attack comes nearly two weeks after gunmen opened fire with two automatic rifles against a riot police bus as it passed by a university campus outside the city center on 23 December. None of the about 20 police on board the bus were injured in that shooting.

Police have frequently come under attack from protesters throwing gasoline bombs during two weeks of riots sparked by the 6 December death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in a police shooting in the often volatile Exarchia district, while masked men have also attacked police stations with gasoline bombs.

But no attacks had caused serious injury until Monday's shooting, which also took place in the Exarchia district, a downtown district of bars and restaurants that is also considered to be an area favored by radicals.

After the attack, patrol cars and riot police buses blocked access to much of Exarchia, and forensic investigators in white coveralls collected evidence from the site of the shooting.

The area remained cordoned off for several hours, and a police statement said authorities detained 72 people during the initial search for suspects after the attack, which occurred at 3:05 a.m. (0105GMT).

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the shooting.

After the Dec. 23 attack against the riot police bus, an anonymous caller had claimed responsibility for that shooting on behalf of a previously unknown group, and a public prosecutor who handles terrorism offenses was heading the investigation. It was unclear whether the claim of responsibility was reliable.

At least six serious attacks have been carried out by little-known domestic radical groups in the past five years, including two bombings and the fatal shooting of a policeman by gunmen who stole his automatic weapon.

Most of these attacks were claimed by a group called Revolutionary Struggle.