Jan 12, 2007
ATHENS, Greece (CNN) -- Several senior U.S. State Department officials say the initial assessment of Friday's attack on the U.S. Embassy in Athens is that it was launched by "locally grown leftists," not al Qaeda nor another foreign element.
No one was injured in the rocket attack at about 6 a.m. (0400 GMT) on the fortified building, and the only visible damage was a shattered window.
Greek Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said a claim that a group called Revolutionary Struggle orchestrated the attack is being investigated after an unidentified person called the embassy and said it was responsible.
A U.S. State Department official said Greek authorities were taking seriously the caller's claim about the group -- believed to be a spin-off of Greece's far-left terrorist group November 17 -- but have not confirmed it.
The official said the claim was made by a group that "calls themselves an heir of November 17."
The anonymous phone call came hours after a top police officer confirmed that a rocket-propelled grenade crashed into the third floor and smashed a front window of the embassy.
Police immediately sealed all entrances and exits and cordoned off the block around the compound, stalling traffic in morning rush hour.
Greek and U.S. counterterrorism officials have been searching the embassy grounds and nearby buildings for evidence.
"It appears a missile was fired from across a broad avenue," the U.S. ambassador to Greece, Charles Ries, told CNN.
He said that although the setback for the embassy is more than 20 meters (about 70 feet) from the road "there probably is not a spot that would be so far away that a missile couldn't be fired."
Ries called the incident "a very serious attack," and said the compound is being treated as a "crime scene."
"There can be no justification for such a senseless act of violence," Ries said.
Police chief Asimakis Golfis was reported by AP as saying the attack was an "act of terrorism."
"There was a shell that exploded in the toilets of the building ... It was fired from street level," Golfis added.
Polydoras said Greece "strongly condemns" the "symbolic act." He added: "It is an attempt to disrupt our country's international relations."
The heavily guarded embassy in Athens has been the site of protests in the past. It was the target of a rocket-propelled grenade attack in February 1996. That attack caused minor damage.
Greece has suffered a history of domestic terrorism. In the past 30 years five U.S. Embassy staff members have been killed by the elusive November 17 terrorist group, Ries said. (Full story (http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/01/12/greek.groups.ap/index.html))
The group takes its name from the date of a 1973 student uprising against the military government that ruled Greece at the time. In 1975 Richard Welch, CIA station chief at the U.S. Embassy, was the group's first victim. Its most recent victim, in 2000, was Brig. Stephen Saunders, Britain's senior military attache.
The killers typically leave pamphlets espousing anti-U.S. and anti-European Union ideology.
"Fortunately as a result of a break in 2002 many members of November 17 are behind bars and the frequency of domestic terrorism has gone way, way down," Ries said.
However, authorities do not know if a Greek-affiliated group or individual staged Friday's attack or whether it was launched by a foreign element.
Its apparent successor, Revolutionary Struggle, has also claimed responsibility for attacks and espoused anti-American sentiments.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis have been briefed and, according to Ries, Bakoyannis is willing to provide any assistance needed.
Ries apologized to all Athens residents for the inconvenience.