Row in Greece over two-day leave for extremist assassin

Athens (AFP) –


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.

Koufontinas, dubbed "Poison Hand" by Greek media and serving multiple life sentences, 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 a media scrum 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.

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

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

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

"I speak as a shocked citizen who is witnessing 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.

The government said it was not the first to take such action. A previous conservative administration -- including 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.