GREECE

Greek police under fire over photos of terror detainees

Prosecutor orders investigation after decision to publicise identities of four suspects backfires

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2013, 6:02am
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Greek authorities are facing an uproar after allegations that police brutally beat four suspected members of a local terrorist group before publishing manipulated mugshots of the men in a crude attempt to disguise their injuries.

A prominent Athens prosecutor ordered an investigation after relatives of the men - aged between 20 and 24 - accused the police of adopting "Guantanamo-style" tactics.

There was a public outcry after the media published the doctored pictures of the suspects who were arrested on Friday after trying to rob two banks in the crisis-hit north. Despite digitally altering the photos, the detainees' bruised eyes and lips were evident.

Promising that instances of torture would not be tolerated, the Greek public order minister, Nikos Dendias, said "punishment will be merciless".

"There is no desire to cover [up for] anyone for anything," he said. Earlier, the public order ministry had issued a statement describing the detainees as being especially dangerous.

"They [had] threatened human lives with Kalashnikovs and they had taken a hostage," it said. "Armed engagements don't happen with the exchange of flowers, the accused had ... resisted arrest."

All four are believed to be linked to politically extreme militant groups that have arisen on the right and left in Greece in the past three years, as the country has been increasingly hobbled by economic crisis and social upheaval.

They [had] threatened human lives with Kalashnikovs and they had taken a hostage

Two of the detained men, Yannis Michailidis, 24, and Dimitris Politis, 21, were said to be members of the urban guerilla group Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire.

The gang gained notoriety in 2010 when it claimed responsibility for a series of mail bombings targeting foreign embassies and European officials. German chancellor Angela Merkel's office in Berlin was one of those attacked although no one was hurt in the blasts.

A third suspect, whose picture was printed in newspapers yesterday, is Nikos Romanos, 20, described as the best friend of Alexis Grigoropoulos, a teenager shot by police in December 2008. His death led to widespread violence that shocked the nation and its European partners.

Like his friend, Romanos, who was present on the night of the shooting, comes from a family of businessmen and writers in Athens's wealthy northern suburbs.

Police claim his fingerprints had been found in a safe house used by the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire.

Dendias said the mugshots had been released by police, despite digital doctoring, so that the suspects would be "recognisable to the public" and authorities could conduct further investigations into possible hideouts they had used.

But the crude manipulation methods used to tone down the injuries the men had sustained has unleashed political outrage, including opposition from the radical-left Syriza party. "Mr Dendias' statements are further evidence of the right-wing turn of today's government which is targeting ... rights, freedoms and finally democracy itself," the Syriza party said and it called for a thorough investigation.