GREEK prosecutors are investigating whether four suspected bank robbers were beaten in custody after police published mugshots that were digitally altered to make their injuries appear less severe.
The four men, aged 20 to 24, were arrested on Friday in northern Greece shortly after a double bank robbery in a village near the city of Kozani.
Three are suspected of being linked to a politically militant group that has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings.
Police released mugshots over the weekend seeking further information on the suspects from the public. The photos appeared to have been altered, lessening bruising that was clear in press photos taken during their transfer from the local police station.
There have been numerous allegations of brutality while in Greek police custody in recent years, with suspects complaining of beatings and humiliations during detentions and arrests.
“The torture of detainees is an embarrassment for the Greek state,” the main opposition left-wing Syriza party said. “Neither the weight of a criminal act nor any aim of interrogation can justify the torture of detainees.”
It added that such occurrences were “a general phenomenon” in the Greek police and not isolated incidents.
Local media quoted the parents of one of the suspects, Andreas Bourtzoukos, 23, as saying their son was forced onto his knees with a hood on his head and beaten for four hours.
Authorities have said the suspects had been armed and were injured during the operation to arrest them.
Public order minister Nikos Dendias yesterday acknowledged the photographs had been altered, but defended the decision by saying it had been done to make the four men recognisable to the public.
He also referred to the suspects as “heavily armed terrorists, terrorists who had carried out a robbery”.
Police said two of the men – Yannis Michailidis, 34, and Dimitris Politis, 21 – are suspected members of a militant group known as Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire and were on trial in absentia.
The group is best known for a series of mail bombings in 2010 targeting embassies and European officials, including one that reached German chancellor Angela Merkel’s office in Berlin. None of the bombings claimed by the group caused any injuries.
Police said they found the fingerprints of a third suspect, Nikos Romanos, 20, in one of the safe houses used by the group. He was a close friend of Alexis Grigoropoulos, 15, who was shot and killed by a policeman in December 2008 after a verbal altercation in central Athens that led to widespread rioting across Greece.
Greece has a long history of small left-wing or anarchist militant groups active in the country. Most target symbols of political power or wealth in bombings and rarely cause injuries. They have often used bank robberies as a means of raising funds for their actions.
Last month, a bomb exploded in a popular shopping centre in an Athens suburb on a Sunday morning, causing no injuries. Warning calls were made and the mall – where shops were closed but cafés and cinemas open – was evacuated before the blast. Two previously unknown groups claimed responsibility.
Anti-terrorism police yesterday searched an apartment in a nearby Athens suburb after indications it had been rented by one of the four arrested in Kozani. Items recovered included the stock of a shotgun, butane canisters, a flare, mobile phone accessories and a USB stick.