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Rocket Fired At US Embassy In Athens; No Injuries January 12, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.
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ATHENS (AP)–An antitank shell was fired at the U.S. embassy in Athens early Friday, striking the front of the building but causing no injuries.

A senior police official said the blast was an act of terrorism, raising fears of a resurgence of far-left Greek militant groups.

Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said Greece strongly condemns the attack on the heavily guarded building.

“We believe it is a symbolic act,” he said. “It is an attempt to disrupt our country’s international relations.”

Police cordoned off streets around the building after the explosion shortly before 0600 local time. The shell struck the third floor – narrowly missing the embassy emblem – and smashed glass in nearby buildings.

Investigators were examining what they believed was the device used to fire the shell from a construction site near the embassy.

“This is an act of terrorism. We don’t know where from,” Attica Police Chief Asimakis Golfis said. “There was a shell that exploded in the toilets of the building…It was fired from street level.”

Embassy officials confirmed an explosion had taken place and said no one had been injured. U.S. ambassador Charles Ries said the damage was “not extensive.”

“There can be no justification for such a senseless act of violence. The embassy was occupied at the time (but) nobody was hurt,” he said.

Ries said there had been no warning of the attack.

“We’re treating it as a very serious attack. We will determine what it is when we know (more),” he said.

Greece’s public order minister said police were examining the authenticity of phone calls claiming responsibility on behalf of a militant left-wing group.

“There are one or two telephone calls, from unknown callers, who claimed that the Revolutionary Struggle assumes responsibility,” Polydoras said.

He said the calls were made to a private security company.

Revolutionary Struggle claimed responsibility for a May 2006 bomb attack on Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, in which nobody was injured.

Authorities were searching apartment buildings near the U.S. Embassy and a nearby hospital for evidence.

“At 5:58 a.m. an explosion was caused by a self-propelling shell, causing minor damage at the front of the building. The Greek Police are working closely with the embassy authorities,” a police statement said.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis visited the embassy after the blast.

“I came here to express the solidarity of the Greek people following this deplorable action,” she said. “Such actions in the past have had a very heavy cost for the country -moral, financial and for the international standing of the country. The Greek government is determined to undertake every effort to not allow such phenomena to be repeated in the future.”

A U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed the attack caused no injuries.

“There are no injuries or casualties of any kind,” Kurtis Cooper said. “Police have responded. As a result the embassy will be closed today, Friday.”

Traffic came to a standstill for more than three hours across parts of central Athens, as police and emergency services scrambled to the embassy building, which is a frequent destination for protest groups.

“I heard a loud bang. I didn’t realize what was going on,” said Giorgos Yiannoulis, who runs a kiosk near the embassy.

It was the first major attack against a U.S. target in Greece in more than a decade, following the arrest of members of Greece’s far-left November 17 terrorist group. The group was blamed for killing 23 people – including U.S., U.K. and Turkish officials – and dozens of bomb attacks.

In 2003, a special court gave multiple life sentences to November 17’s leader, chief assassin and three other members. Lesser sentences were given to 10 others.

November 17 carried out a similar rocket attack against the U.S. embassy in 1996, causing minor damage and no injuries.

Several obscure militant groups have appeared since the November 17 members were arrested. Radical groups Revolutionary Struggle and Popular Revolutionary Action were blamed for the bombings of three government ministries in 2005.

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