On November 13, 2015, ISIS operatives launched the deadliest modern terrorist attack in Western Europe, killing 130 people and wounded 350 more in near-simultaneous bomb and gun attacks throughout Paris. The attacks were later found to have been organized in part by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who reportedly directed the operatives by phone from his base in Greece. (Sources: PBS Frontline, BBC News)

Abaaoud, like several other ISIS operatives, managed to enter and leave Europe through Greece, posing as a Syrian refugee with a fake Syrian passport to carry out attacks in the November 2015 Paris attacks, as well as in the March 2016 Brussels attacks. The use of Greece as a transit point has heightened concerns over Greece’s failure to effectively handle and process the recent wave of foreign refugees. The crisis also comes as Greece continues to grapple with the threat of ultranationalist extremist groups and anarchist terror cells within its borders. In late 2016 and early 2017, Greek terrorists were suspected behind bomb attacks targeting the Greek Foreign Minister, the Ministry of Labor, the French Embassy, and the International Monetary Fund. (Sources: PBS Frontline, U.S. Department of State, Reuters, Greek Reporter, Financial Times)

Overview

Right-wing and anarchist extremists have been active in Greece for decades. The country’s far-right political movement Golden Dawn grabbed international headlines in recent years. Its rise in popularity during the early 2010s has been attributed in part to the country’s failing economy. Greece’s inability to monitor immigration and cross-border travel also appears to have provided fuel for far-right, neo-Nazi, and ultranationalist extremist movements. The party came in third place in Greece’s 2015 parliamentary elections, despite the arrests of the group’s leading members and an ongoing trial in Greece set to determine whether Golden Dawn constitutes a criminal organization. (Sources: BBC News, Telegraph, BBC News)

Since 2008, Greek anarchist group Conspiracy of Fire Cells has meanwhile executed a series of terrorist attacks against both Greek and international targets. In March 2017, the group claimed responsibility for an attack targeting the International Monetary Fund, which left one person injured. The group also claimed responsibility for a foiled bomb attack targeting the offices of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, reasserting its relevance and saying that “We still have the rage… Nothing is over, everything continues.” In January 2017, Greece arrested Panagiota Roupa, leader of Greek anarchist group Revolutionary Struggle and the country’s “no. 1 most wanted” terrorist operative. Roupa had been on the run since 2012, returning to anarchist terrorism after having served 18 months in pretrial detention. The U.S. State Department noted in 2016 that although groups like the Conspiracy of Fire Cells have claimed a spate of terrorist attacks, they often design their bombs so as not to inflict bodily harm but to instead send a political message. (Sources: Foreign Policy, Financial Times, Guardian, New York Times, Reuters, Politico, U.S. Department of State)

In addition to confronting the ongoing threats from anarchist, far-left, and neo-Nazi activity, Greece has also been forced to confront its role as a transit point for foreign ISIS fighters traveling to Syria or returning to carry out attacks in Europe. Several ISIS operatives were found to have used fake Syrian passports and posed as refugees to enter Greece and eventually on to France to carry out attacks. In December 2015, the Greek government passed emergency legislation to establish five screening “hot spots” on the surrounding Aegean islands. In August 2016, the European Union expanded its presence in Greece, deploying around 200 counterterrorism officers to Greek islands in an effort to more effectively screen refugees. (Sources: Los Angeles Times, Greek Reporter, Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Greek Reporter, Associated Press, Guardian, Telegraph, Telegraph)

Radicalization and Foreign Fighters

Extremist groups in Greece employ a wide range of tactics to recruit members. While Greece has become a transit point for foreign fighters, it is believed to be the country’s homegrown, ultranationalist and anarchist groups that pose a leading and ongoing threat to Greece’s security and political stability.

Recruitment and Radicalization

From 2011 to 2013, Golden Dawn—an extremist neo-Nazi political party with openly anti-immigrant policies—experienced what some outlets characterized as a “meteoric rise” in popularity. Even with the arrests of dozens of Golden Dawn members in 2013, the party continues to experience widespread support in Greece. Golden Dawn leaders finished third in the country’s January 2015 election, despite having to run for office from prison. The group is currently on trial on charges of operating as a criminal organization. (Sources: Guardian, Telegraph, Deutsche Welle)

The party appears to have capitalized on the refugee crisis to curry favor with the population.

In public platforms, Golden Dawn propagates an extremist Greek supremacy ideology at the exclusion of the country’s immigrants, homosexuals, and religious and ethnic minorities. The party appears to have capitalized on the refugee crisis to curry favor with the population. One Golden Dawn Member of Parliament (MP) has said, “There are no legal migrants in Greece, not even one.” The party’s 2012 election slogan was similarly xenophobic and ominous: “So we can rid this land of filth.” Golden Dawn has also benefitted from the country’s financial crisis. In line with its nationalist, supremacist ideology, the party refused to accept any austerity measures from Greece’s creditors, endearing the group to the mainstream Greek population. (Sources: BBC News, New Statesman, Newsweek)

Despite currently standing trial on charges of operating as a criminal organization, Golden Dawn continues to employ a range of strategies to recruit members, including grassroots mobilization and participating in neighborhood initiatives. The party has attracted widespread appeal, boasting thousands of members and attendants at Golden Dawn rallies. Golden Dawn also works to appeal to Greek expatriates, including those living in Canada and the United States. (Sources: Business Insider, Telegraph)

Within the country, Golden Dawn is heavily focused on recruiting from Greek’s youth population. The group has used gyms, athletic clubs, and martial arts clubs as grounds for recruiting youths. The party has actively recruited at high schools, and even stands accused of launching an indoctrination course called “national awakening,” aimed at children ages 6-10. These sessions have included lessons on neutral subjects like ancient Greek history and the Christian faith. According to Greece’s education ministry, however, the lessons were a blatant form of manipulation that is aimed to instill a sense of Greek supremacy. The competing Greek party Syriza accused Golden Dawn of “brainwashing little tots with Nazi propaganda.” Educators and commentators have also noted similarities to the Nazi method of indoctrination. (Sources: Business Insider, International Business Times, Economist)

Golden Dawn has a youth club, Galazia Stratia (Blue Army). The group has used bribes to recruit younger members. It hands out cellphones to students, claiming that the kids need access to phones in order to protect themselves from neighborhood crime. They even seek to appeal to Greek youth through music. By 2013, two of Golden Dawn’s members of parliament were musicians, and had used music to propagate violent and hateful messages. One MP was the bass player in a band that praised Hitler’s Auschwitz death camp in one song, and had another song called “Speak Greek Or Die.” (Source: Independent)

If Europe leaves us in the crisis, we will flood it with migrants, and it will be even worse for Berlin if in that wave of millions of economic migrants there will be some jihadists of the Islamic State too.Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos

Not much is known about the presence of Islamic extremism within Greece. In September 2014, Greek authorities estimated that there were some 80-100 people in the country with suspected links to jihadist groups. In early 2015, a source close to Greek intelligence said that there may be some 200 such people in the country. (Sources: Greek Reporter, CNN)

Neither is it widely known if and how jihadist cells—formed in Greece to facilitate foreign fighter travel—recruit within the country. Many of these individuals may not be Greek-born, but instead part of a recent wave of recent immigrants to Greece, both legal and illegal. In March 2015, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos hinted that jihadists comprised some of Greece’s recent immigrants, saying, “If Europe leaves us in the crisis, we will flood it with migrants, and it will be even worse for Berlin if in that wave of millions of economic migrants there will be some jihadists of the Islamic State [ISIS] too.” (Sources: CNN, Telegraph)

Foreign Fighters

While the number of foreign fighters from Greece is not well documented, Greece has become an attractive transit point for jihadists traveling to and from Syria. This is due in part to the country’s proximity to Turkey, as well as its long land and maritime borders. In early 2015, one anonymous counterterrorism official estimated that around 2,000 people have used Greece as a stopping point to join jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria. (Source: CNN)

Greece has been appropriated as a transit point for foreign jihadists. Since 2011, new jihadist cells have formed in Greece for the purpose of facilitating such travel to jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria. According to Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos speaking in September 2014, “We do not have a problem with jihadists in Greece, but there is a problem in our wider area.” Several suspects in the November 2015 ISIS attacks in Paris are believed to have crossed into Greece with fake Syrian passports, posing as Syrian refugees. (Sources: Hürriyet Daily News, CNN, Greek Reporter, Telegraph, Greek Reporter PBS Frontline)

Major Extremist and Terrorist Incidents

Since the end of Greece’s military dictatorship in 1974, Greece has been subject to a host of domestic terrorist groups and an ongoing series of extremist left-wing and right-wing attacks. Notable attacks on Greek soil include those from extreme leftist groups November 17 (17N), Revolutionary Popular Struggle (ELA), Revolutionary Struggle (EA), and Sect of Revolutionaries (SE). Other attacks were borne from anarchist group Conspiracy of Fire Cells. More recent violent terrorist groups that have popped up since 2013 include Wild Freedom – Instigator of Social Explosion, the Group of Popular Rebels, and Green Nemesis, an environmental terrorist group.

Greece is also host to established neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn, a movement that gained a significant amount of traction in the early 2010s. In that time, Golden Dawn members have been recorded as having carried out the majority of recorded racist attacks in the early 2010s. Since the 2013 murder of a Greek rapper by a Golden Dawn member, almost 70 Golden Dawn members have been charged with belonging to a criminal organization, though the group continues to retain popular support. (Source: BBC News)

 

Domestic Counter-Extremism

Legislation

The Greek Criminal Code codifies the terrorism statute under Article 187A. The Greek constitution subjects its citizens to international and European Union laws concerning terrorism laws in Articles 28(1), 28(2), and 28(3). (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Committee of Experts on Terrorism, U.S. Department of State)

In September 2014, Greece passed a bill into law that reportedly toughened anti-racism laws and criminalized the denial of the Holocaust.

In September 2014, Greece passed a bill into law that reportedly toughened anti-racism laws and criminalized the denial of the Holocaust. The law lengthens the prison term for perpetrators of hate crimes from two to three years, and imposes heavy fines for inciting racism and participating in racism-motivated crimes. (Source: Reuters)

The law came amidst a surge in hate crimes, including the rise in popularity of the far-right political organization Golden Dawn, which stands accused of operating as a criminal organization after members and several party leaders violently attacked immigrants and the group’s political opponents. Greek Justice Minister Haralambos Athanassiou told parliament, “Reinforcing our legislative arsenal is demanded more than ever today, when the enemies of democracy and those who deny the human substance preach hatred.” (Source: Reuters)

In December 2015, the Hellenic parliament enacted emergency legislation that established screening centers for incoming refugees on the outlying Greek islands. The legislation came in the wake of ISIS’s November 2015 Paris attacks. Several attacks suspects are believed to have entered Europe by way of Greece, posing as Syrian refugees. In August 2016, the European Union expanded its presence in Greece, deploying around 200 counterterrorism officers to Greek islands in an effort to more effectively screen refugees. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Associated Press, Telegraph, Telegraph)

Trial of Golden Dawn Leadership

The murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013 by a Golden Dawn member triggered widespread outrage across Greece and led to a government-led crackdown on the ultranationalist political party. Almost a year and a half later, in February 2015, a judicial panel charged dozens of Golden Dawn leaders, lawmakers, and members, with belonging to a criminal organization. The trial commenced in April 2015, and was still ongoing as of 2017. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal, Deutsche Welle)

Security Agencies

Greece’s National Intelligence Service (Ethniki Ypiresia Pliroforion, or NIS-EYP) is responsible for collecting, processing, and analyzing intelligence within Greece, as well as performing counterintelligence activities on enemy foreign actors. The NIS-EYP reports to the Greek Parliament, and issues an annual report of its activities. (Source: John M. Nomikos: National Security and the Future)

At its inception, the EYP was largely responsible for monitoring communists and antimonarchists. Today, the EYP oversees numerous departments and activities, including but not limited to: a research center that cooperates with universities, scientific organizations, and research institutes; a strategy planning council for crisis management; and a sub-directorate for international counterterrorism and organized crime. (Source: John M. Nomikos: National Security and the Future)

There are has also been mounting concern over the country’s ability to control its borders.

The Greek police operates the Special Suppressive Counter-terrorism Unit (EKAM). Formed in 1978, the EKAM responds to terrorist activities, hostage taking, and the arrest of dangerous criminals, among other tenets. The unit operates within Greece and abroad, and reports to the chief of the Greek police. In 2016, Greece arrested more than a dozen Islamist suspects in Athens and Alexandroupolis. In January 2017, Greece arrested Panagiota Roupa, leader of Greek anarchist group Revolutionary Struggle and the country’s “no. 1 most wanted” terrorist operative. Roupa had been on the run since 2012, returning to terrorism after having served 18 months in pretrial detention. (Sources: Special Ops, Greek Reporter, Greek Reporter, New York Times)

Greece’s Police Directorate for Countering Special Violent Crimes (DAEEV) is charged with handling domestic counterterrorism. As noted by the U.S. State Department, this unit has for years lacked the institutional capacity to share collected data with other domestic apparatuses, as well as with the country’s coast guard. Research Institute for European and American Studies director John Nomikos told CNN that Greece needs substantial help in reforming its domestic security. “The country urgently needs a Department of Homeland Security in order to coordinate the intelligence-sharing among the Greek intelligence service (NIS-EYP), anti-terrorism squad intelligence unit,” he said. (Source: CNN, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State)

In 2015, concern mounted over the vulnerability in Greece’s national identity card, which the U.S. State Department has repeatedly called “extremely vulnerable to alteration and photo substitution.” Greek police has made efforts to mitigate this risk by checking the authenticity of national ID databases. The country has also committed to address the risk more comprehensively through the eventual introduction of a biometric national ID system. (Source: U.S. Department of State, U.S. State Department)

There are has also been mounting concern over the country’s ability to control its borders, especially in light of findings that ISIS attackers in the November 2015 Paris attacks and March 2016 Brussels attacks managed to pass through Greek borders in order to carry out its attacks. Despite many efforts taken in 2015 to address the ongoing threat, Greece’s border vulnerability continued to remain a concern. In August 2016, the European Union deployed around 200 counterterrorism officers to Greek islands in an effort to more effectively screen refugees. The United States has also dispatched personnel to Greece to help train authorities in border security. (Sources: OSAC, U.S. Department of State, Telegraph, Telegraph, U.S. Department of State)

Combatting Terrorist Financing

Greece has been a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) since 1991. The FATF is an intergovernmental organization that works to combat the financing of terrorism. The organization has recommended the adoption of various measures including the criminalization of terrorist financing, the freezing of terrorist assets, and policies designed to ensure that terrorists cannot exploit non-governmental organizations. (Sources: Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Financial Action Task Force, Financial Action Task Force)

To further combat terrorist financing, Greece operates an Anti-Money Laundering, Counter-Terrorist Financing and Source of Funds Investigation Authority pursuant to Law 3932/2011. The Authority comprises three units including the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the Financial Sanctions Unit (FSU), and the Source of Funds Investigation Unit (SFIU). The units work together to collect, investigate, and analyze suspicious transaction reports (STRs) forwarded from both legal entities and civilians. Greece is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. (Sources: Hellenic FIU, Hellenic FIU, U.S. Department of State)

International Counter-Extremism

According to the U.S. Department of State, Greece cooperates in regional information sharing with the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Southeast European Law Enforcement Center for Combating Trans-Border Crime, and the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation. Greece has engaged in NATO operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan and the U.N. operation in Libya. (Source: U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, Geneva Academy)

In reference to jihadist activity within Greece, senior Greek intelligence official told the Los Angeles Times in September 2014, “We are… at a heightened state of vigilance now, exchanging intelligence from the United States, Britain, France and others.” The country has since participated in international fora and conferences centered on regional information exchange and criminal justice training to prevent and respond to terrorism threats. (Sources: Los Angeles Times, U.S. Department of State)

ISIS

Greece announced its political and military support of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in September 2014. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs pledged the provision of humanitarian aid and the transfer of ammunition to Kurdish forces fighting the terror group. (Sources: Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Greek Reporter)

Greece has also received support from the European Union to stem the threat from ISIS. In late 2016, a specialized task force of around 200 EU counterterrorism officers were deployed to Greek islands. The officers were tasked with working to spot and prevent ISIS fighters from using fake passports to enter Europe alongside refugee populations. Since deploying to Greece, the EU task force has reportedly identified fake passports intended for use by ISIS operatives. (Sources: Telegraph, Telegraph

Diplomatic and Financial Endeavors

According to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Greece has “signed all international legal instruments on terrorism.” (Source: Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

During Greece’s Presidency of the EU Council in 2014, the country played an important role in “deterring radicalization and the recruitment of terrorists, combating the financing of terrorism, linking security and development, and flows of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq,” according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within the European Union, Greece has highlighted the issue of illegal smuggling of ancient artifacts by extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. Greece has not yet taken any measurable steps towards confronting this issue. (Source: Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Public Opinion

Greek citizens have publically rallied against the strong right-wing extremist presence in the country. In September 2013, thousands took to the streets in protest of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. The protests began after Golden Dawn party supporters attacked Communist Party members in what London’s Guardian described as “the most serious violence since the extremist group was elected to the country's parliament [the previous year].” In the following week, thousands of protesters across Greece again took to the streets in response to the murder of anti-racist and anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn Party member. (Sources: Guardian, BBC News, Reuters, Euronews)

In the 2015 election, Golden Dawn garnered 6.3 percent of the vote, winning 17 seats in the 300-seat parliament.

Nevertheless, Golden Dawn maintains considerable popular support. In 2013, a poll conducted by Public Issue, a Greek telephone polling company, found that 13 percent of the population supported the Golden Dawn party. In the January 2015 election, Golden Dawn garnered 6.3 percent of the vote, winning 17 seats in the country’s 300-seat parliament. While its support has decreased since 2013, the party remains the third most popular in the country. (Sources: Public Issue, Bloomberg)

Pew Research Center attributes Golden Dawn’s popularity in part to Greece’s financial crisis, which the party blames on immigrants and ethnic minorities. According to the Guardian, 2013 opinion polls by Public Issue and Pulse Opinion Research indicate that “no other party has managed to capitalise on the growing levels of desperation and despair” as Golden Dawn has. The refugee crisis may also play a factor in the growth of far-right, anti-immigrant extremism. A 2016 Pew poll found that roughly two-thirds of Greek respondents considered the refugee crisis a “major threat” in the country. (Sources: Pew Research Center, Guardian, Christian Science Monitor, Pew Research Center)

A large majority of the Greek population is concerned about Islamic extremism. A June 2013 Pew poll found that 52 percent of Greeks consider Islamic extremism a significant threat to their national security. Iran’s nuclear program elicits similar concern, with 64 percent of the population deeming the program a “major threat.” A Pew poll from 2016 found that 29 percent of Greek respondents considered military force the best way to combat terrorism, while 64 percent are concerned that military action exacerbates the terrorist threat. Greeks continued to be concerned with terrorism in 2017, with 79 percent listing ISIS as a “major threat” to the country, according to a Pew poll. (Sources: Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center)