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Terror Group Killed British Diplomat

The Greek terrorist group "November 17" has taken responsibility Friday for assassinating the British defense attache, Stephen Saunders Thursday. They said he was killed because of his role in NATO's barbaric air strikes against Yugoslavia last year.

In a 13 page statement that appeared in the daily newspaper Eleftherotypia, The statement reflected the group's evolution from a heavily Marxist ideology to a strong nationalistic perspective. Most Greeks strongly opposed the NATO military action against Yugoslavia, objecting to the alliance's intervention in the region and feeling kinship with fellow Christian Orthodox Serbs.

"We decided to execute (Saunders) because he took part in the planning of the barbaric airstrikes on Yugoslavia," said the statement from the terrorist group The group said the policies expressed by British leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, "surpassed the audacity and cynicism even of the Americans."

The statement came a day after two gunmen on a motorcycle ambushed Brig. Stephen Saunders, 52, in Athens. They shot him repeatedly as his car sat in a morning traffic jam on his way to a meeting to discuss possible tank sales to Greece.

But the British Defense Ministry said Saunders had no role in planning the NATO airstrikes and was based in Kuwait as part of a U.N. observer mission when the bombing began in March 1999.

After the NATO campaign, he helped direct Kosovo-bound British troops traveling through Greece and neighboring Macedonia, the ministry said.

Saunder's sobbing widow, Heather, said at a news conference Friday,
"Not only have they killed my husband, they have destroyed me." "We must prevent this type of thing happening again. .. These wicked men must be brought to justice."

The November 17 statement also took credit for a series of attacks last year, including firing rockets at the German ambassador's residence and offices of the governing Socialist party.

Greek Premier Costas Simitis called top officials to a meeting to discuss the slaying. Foreign Minister George Papandreou promised a "most merciless" response.

Greek authorities are under enormous pressure to show results against November 17.

Any terrorist link could put Greece under even more severe international pressure for a massive crackdown. U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Greece of ineffective counterterrorism against incidents ranging from arson strikes to killings blamed on "November 17" dating back to 1975.

But the Greek government has repeatedly rejected the U.S. criticism.

Greece is also in the spotlight to develop a security plan for the 2004 Olympics.

The British diplomat shooting occurred near the main stadium for the games.

Saunders took few security precautions common among diplomats in Athens. He drove alone in a regular car without bulletproofing. Neighbors said he took walks and visited the market in his neighborhood in Athens' norther suburbs.

The terrorist group takes its name from the 1973 student-led uprising against the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967-74.

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