November 17 'chief' denies all charges

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The Independent Online

The alleged mastermind of Greece's November 17 terrorist group told a packed Athens courtroom yesterday he was innocent and had been framed by the authorities because of his anti-capitalist views.

Alexandros Giotopoulos, 59, the son of Greece's leading Trotskyite, faces nearly 1,000 charges ranging from murder to robbery. "The charges are fabricated," Mr Giotopoulos said in the specially built court at Korydallos high-security prison. "I have denied [them] from the start. [The authorities] want to convict someone as leader so this case can close."

He denied any involvement in the group's most recent killing, of the British defence attaché Stephen Saunders in June 2000, saying he had been helping his partner through chemotherapy on that day.

The French-born mathematician and 18 other suspects were captured last year after a failed bomb attack led authorities to their first suspect. The trial is in its seventh month and a verdict is expected in October.

Once called the most elusive terrorists in the world, N17 waged a 27-year campaign, murdering Greek industrialists and diplomats from America, Turkey and Britain.

Prosecutors have so far failed to link Mr Giotopoulos directly to any crime but claim to have found his fingerprints on statements issued by N17.

Mr Giotopoulos said: "According to the charges I have spent many hours in the group's hide-outs. So why didn't they find any DNA material and only fingerprints on papers and books?"

He did admit being an experienced bomb maker, a skill he claims to have learnt during a series of attacks launched against Greece's 1967-74 military dictatorship.

Mr Giotopoulos insisted that he had been busy translating French into Greek since returning from exile in Paris and littered his testimony with references to Balzac and Aristotle.

Failure to convict Mr Giotopoulos would deal a serious blow to Greece's claims to have eradicated the threat of homegrown terrorism less than a year before the Olympics.