Greek journalist investigating corruption shot dead at his home

Menelaos Tzafalias,Archie Bland
Tuesday 20 July 2010 00:00 BST

A Greek investigative journalist was gunned down outside his home yesterday in an attack blamed on a far-left terrorist group.

Sokratis Giolias, a 37-year-old radio journalist and popular blogger and father of one, was shot more than 15 times by terrorists carrrying 9mm pistols. He was killed at around 5.20am in the middle-class Athens suburb of Ilioupoli after three uniformed attackers in bullet-proof vests, apparently posing as security personnel, rang his doorbell. They drew him out of his apartment building by claiming that someone had stolen his car. His pregnant wife was upstairs.

Later police discovered a car, apparently the getaway vehicle, abandoned and burned to a shell near to the scene of the crime. Officers initially dismissed the idea that terrorists were responsible. But later they said that ballistics tests on bullet casing at the scene had shown that the same guns had been used in previous operations by the Sect of Revolutionaries, a far-left group which was implicated last year in the murder of an anti-terror police officer and an attack on a television station.

The casings also matched a cartridge found on the grave of the 15-year-old police shooting victim whose death in 2008 prompted violent protests that led to the group's emergence.

After the attack on the television station, the group accused the media of helping the state to keep the public docile and declared: "Journalists, this time we came to your door, but next time you will find us in your homes."

No specific motive has yet been established for the murder. Mr Giolias was head of Thema 9.89 radio station and a key contributor to Troktiko blog, one of Greece's most well-read online news sources, which anonymously publishes tales of political scandal.

Yiannis Marakakis, Mr Giolias's lawyer, said to Greece's Antenna TV that he had been expecting a visit from his client on the day of the execution, but that his client had not seemed particularly concerned for his safety in spite of previous threats. Marakakis said he was not aware whether his client was working on a particular story that could have prompted the attack. One television station reported yesterday that he had been working on an investigation into business corruption.

Mr Giolias was partly noted for his association with Makis Triantafyllopoulos, his mentor before the two fell out and amongst Greece's best-known populist journalists. Mr Triantafyllopoulos issued a statement mourning his erstwhile colleague and suggesting that his anonymous working methods could have contributed to his fate.

That verdict was echoed by Vasilis Bonios, a journalist at an opposition weekly, who suggested that Mr Giolias had "paid a high price for his anonymity." "In Greece there is no rule of law despite the government's promises," he added.

Greek society is still reeling from the killing of three people during protests in May, and the murder in June of a senior police official by letter bomb in an attack that targeted the Minister of Public Order, Michael Chysochoidis, the man who brought to justice the notorious terrorist group, 17 November. Two terrorist groups, the Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire and the Sect of Revolutionaries, have sprung up in recent years and been responsible for much of the terrorist activity that has plagued the country since the 2008 riots.

Nonetheless, yesterday's killing – the first terrorist murder of a journalist in Greece since 1985 – drew widespread shock in Athens, and journalists and politicians alike expressed their outrage at the execution. Mr Giolias' colleagues at Thema 9.89 said that his "execution was a blow to democracy" and that they would "fight on".

Video: Greek journalist shot dead

Panos Sobolos, president of the Athens journalists' union, said that "Somebody wanted to silence a very good investigative reporter who had stepped on a lot of toes with his stories." And a government spokesman, Giorgos Petalotis, said: "Democracy and freedom of speech cannot be gagged, terrorised or intimidated... The government unreservedly condemns this cowardly and cold-blooded murder."

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