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article imageRow in Greece over two-day leave for extremist assassin

By AFP     Nov 9, 2017 in World

A political row erupted in Greece on Thursday after a key far-left assassin implicated in deadly attacks on US, British, Turkish and Greek targets was given a two-day leave from prison.

Dimitris Koufontinas, 59, a senior member of the November 17 extremist group, was granted leave from Korydallos Prison for the first time in 15 years after repeated denials.

Koufontinas, dubbed "Poison Hand" by Greek media and serving multiple life sentences, will stay in a semi-rural community near Athens and must report to a police station twice a day.

The former mathematician and beekeeper emerged smiling from the top security prison, greeted a few friends and made no comments to journalists gathered outside.

The shadow November 17 group, named after an anti-junta student uprising, was behind the 1975 killing of the CIA's Athens station chief Richard Welch, and claimed responsibility for assassinating 23 people in scores of attacks on US, British, Turkish and Greek targets between the 1970s and 1990s.

US ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt condemned the leave approval, calling it an insult to the victims and their families.

"I add my voice to those from across Greece's political spectrum deploring prison council decision to release a convicted terrorist, murderer & N17 leader," Pyatt said on Twitter.

"Our democracies rest on independent judicial institutions, but today's furlough dishonors the victims memory & their families," said the ambassador, adding a picture of a plaque bearing the names of five US mission members killed by November 17.

British ambassador Kate Smith likewise tweeted London's "profound disappointment" and added that the embassy "shared" the pain of the victims' families.

British military attache Stephen Saunders was the group's last victim, in 2000.

Koufontinas, who evaded police in 2002 for months by camping out on a secluded beach when the other members of the group were arrested, eventually turned himself in.

He later wrote a best seller on his life inside the extremist group.

Opposition parties assailed the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, noting that Koufontinas had never shown any remorse for his actions.

- 'Remorseless murderer' -

"I speak as a shocked citizen who is witnessing this country's biggest terrorist, a remorseless murderer, given leave from prison," said main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose sister's husband was among the group's victims.

"A man who murdered 11 people... should not be leaving prison," added fellow opposition leader Stavros Theodorakis.

Koufontinas said he would use his time out to reconnect with his family and "restore (his) beekeeping unit", state agency ANA reported.

The government said it was not the first to take such action. A previous conservative administration -- which included Mitsotakis in the cabinet -- had given leave to another of the group's chief assassins, Christodoulos Xiros, in 2014.

Xiros promptly vanished and was on the run for several months before being re-arrested.

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