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Athens home of ambassador sprayed with bullets

A forensics officer at the scene; the ambassador praised the swift response of the police. Picture: AP

A forensics officer at the scene; the ambassador praised the swift response of the police. Picture: AP

  • by DEREK GATOPOULO
 

The home of Germany’s ambassador to Greece was sprayed with gunfire from automatic weapons early yesterday morning, in a suspected terrorist attack the government claimed was aimed at hurting the country’s image before it takes over the presidency of the European Union.

No one was hurt in the pre dawn attack, which riddled the official residence of ambassador Wolfgang Dold with bullets from two AK-47 assault rifles. Anti-terrorism police, who recovered more than 60 bullet casings from the scene, cordoned off streets around the building following the pre-dawn shooting on a busy road in the Halandri area of the capital.

No group has claimed responsibility for the incident. Six people were briefly detained for questioning and released without charge while investigators were examining video from surveillance cameras as well as a stolen car found near the scene of the shooting, police said.

As Greece’s biggest bailout lender, Germany is often the subject of strong criticism in the country, which is suffering through a sixth year of recession and tough austerity measures imposed as a condition of its rescue loans.

Mr Dold, a 55-year-old career diplomat who has three children, thanked the government for the police’s “swift response.”

“To those responsible for this action, I state it will not affect the close and friendly relations between our two countries, and it will not reverse the country’s economic recovery,” he said in a statement.

Foreign diplomats were repeatedly targeted by far-left terrorist groups active from the mid-1970s but such attacks have been rare since a major police crackdown on radical militants that started more than a decade ago and resulted in multiple arrests and convictions.

The same building was targeted in a 1999 attack using an improvised rocket launcher that also resulted in no injuries and was claimed by the November 17 terrorist group.

Prime minister Antonis Samaras telephoned Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, as well the German ambassador following the attack. The government said it was meant to tarnish the country’s reputation during its presidency of the EU, which runs from tomorrow until the end of June.

“The Greek government expresses its outrage and outright condemnation of today’s cowardly terrorist action which had the only apparent and objective of [damaging] Greece’s image abroad,” a foreign ministry statement said. “The perpetrators will soon be brought to justice.”

The comments were echoed in Berlin.

“This is a clear signal that the bond between Germany and Greece cannot be damaged by such an attack,” said Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Mrs Merkel.

Despite receiving bailout loans that will total 240 billion euros (£200 billion), poverty has soared in Greece since the 2010 bailout.

The country’s national debt is still considered unsustainable because of the badly weakened economy.

Eurozone countries have promised to consider new debt relief measures later this year.

The attack also drew condemnation from across the political spectrum in Greece, with the anti-bailout opposition Syriza party saying it undermined Greece’s struggle against austerity.

 

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