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Notorious Greek assassin back in jail after controversial leave

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The decision in Greece to give convicted assassin Dimitris Koufontinas a two-day leave provoked outrage (AFP Photo/Stelios MISINAS)


A notorious Greek assassin jailed for life over the killings of 11 people including US, British and Turkish embassy staff, was back in prison Saturday after a controversial two-day leave.

The decision to temporarily allow Dimitris Koufontinas, a senior member of the November 17 extremist group, out of jail for the first time in 15 years, sparked uproar from the families of the group’s victims.

The far-left hitman, now 59, returned to Korydallos Prison around 90 minutes ahead of a required deadline, a justice source said.

November 17, named after an anti-junta student uprising, was behind the 1975 killing of the CIA’s Athens station chief Richard Welch and claimed responsibility for slaying 23 people in scores of attacks on US, British, Turkish and Greek targets.

British military attache Stephen Saunders was the group’s last victim, in 2000.

Koufontinas, a former mathematician dubbed “Poison Hand”, is in jail over the deaths of Saunders in addition to a US military attache, a US airman and two Turkish diplomats among others.

His two-day leave sparked criticism from the US, Britain and Turkey.

US ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said it was an insult to victims and their families.

“I add my voice to those from across Greece’s political spectrum deploring prison council decision to release a convicted terrorist, murderer & N17 leader,” Pyatt said on Twitter.

British ambassador Kate Smith likewise tweeted London’s “profound disappointment” and added that the embassy “shared” the pain of the victims’ families.

And the Turkish foreign ministry said the decision had displayed “tolerance to a bloodthirsty terrorist” in “sheer disrespect to the memory of our martyred diplomats.”

Koufontinas, who evaded police in 2002 for months by camping out on a secluded beach when the other members of the group were arrested, eventually turned himself in.

He later wrote a best seller on his life inside the extremist group.

Opposition parties have assailed the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, accused by domestic critics of being soft on far-left militants, noting that Koufontinas had never shown remorse.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the main Greek opposition leader, whose sister’s husband was among November 17’s victims, said: “I speak as a shocked citizen who is witnessing this country’s biggest terrorist, a remorseless murderer, given leave from prison.”

Liberal daily Kathimerini on Saturday said Koufontinas was able to secure leave because the Tsipras government had modified a law regarding conditional release.


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Dimitris Koufontinas

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