Stephen Saunders PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 21 November 2008 14:34

Brigadier Stephen Saunders

Brigadier Stephen Saunders

Born: 1947

Died: 8 June 2000, Athens

Age: 53

cause of death: Gunshot wounds.

Notable because: Following his killing by November 17, British intelligence working with Greek police finally ended the November 17  group responsible for the 23 politically motivated killings by their members. Amongst those arrested was  'Dimitris Koufodinas', its chief assassin, known as "poison hand" for his skills with a pistol. The Saunders killing, and the image of his wife tirelessly campaigning for action, turned popular will against November 17 to the degree that they were finally outed after almost 3 decades of violent anti-capitalist protest.


Stephen Saunders was the British military attaché in Athens,  killed by motorcycle gunmen who were members of Revolutionary Organization 17 November (17N). Stephen Saunders was buried with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone in Melbury Osmund churchyard in Dorset, close to where he had previously lived.

Saunders was attacked and shot dead while driving through Athens traffic on his way to work at the British Embassy, Athens at 7:48 am. The investigation that followed led to an unprecedented level of co-operation between Greek and UK Police services, who achieved, following a lengthy investigation the arrest of members of the 17N terrorist organisation who were then brought to trial.

In December 2005, Kleanthis Grivas published an article in To Proto Thema, a major Greek investigative Sunday newspaper, in which he accused "Sheepskin", the Greek branch of Gladio, NATO's stay-behind paramilitary organization during the Cold War, of the assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Athens in 1975, as well as of the assassination of Stephen Saunders in 2000. This was denied by the US State Department, whom declared that "the Greek terrorist organization '17 November' was responsible for both assassinations". The State Department didn't provide any counter-proof, but did highlight the fact that, in the case of Richard Welch, "Grivas bizarrely accuses the CIA of playing a role in the assassination of one of its own senior officials." while "Sheepskin" couldn't have assassinated Stephen Saunders for the simple reason, according to the US government, that "the Greek government stated it dismantled the “stay behind” network in 1988." 

Since 2001 St. Catherine’s British Embassy School in Athens has been awarding the Stephen Saunders Award for Good Citizenship to a pupil with outstanding contribution to school life, society and the support of others.

 The Greek Government undertook some meaningful steps to combat terrorism--especially in the wake of the Revolutionary Organization 17 November's (17 November) murder of UK Defense Attache Saunders in Athens--including efforts to persuade a historically skeptical public of the damage inflicted by terrorism on Greece's interests and international reputation. The government strengthened the police counterterrorism unit, implemented a multimillion-dollar reward program, and began drafting legislation to provide a legal basis for more vigorous counterterrorism efforts. Greek, British, and US experts cooperated closely in the still ongoing investigation of the Saunders murder. Nonetheless, despite these and other promising initiatives, as well as closer Greek-US cooperation, Athens resolved no outstanding terrorist incident and arrested no terrorist suspects in 2000.




The poison hand. Dimitris Koufodinas




In June, two motorcyclists shot and killed British Defense Attache Stephen Saunders in Athens' rush hour traffic. Revolutionary Organization 17 November, a violent far-left nationalist group, claimed the murder as revenge against NATO's military action in 1999 against Serbia. The group simultaneously claimed responsibility for attacks it had mounted in 1999 on the German and Dutch ambassadors' residences, on three Western banks, and on offices of the governing PASOK party. In a follow-up communique released in December, 17 November defended itself against mounting public criticism by trying to appeal to populist, pro-Serb sentiments and also by urging Greeks not to cooperate with the government's counterterrorism efforts.

Revolutionary Organization 17 November assassinated British Defense Attache

Revolutionary Organization 17 November assassinated British Defense Attache Stephen Saunders in Athens in June. Heather Saunders--shown awaiting her husband's coffin at Gatwick Airport--has been instrumental in raising Greek public awareness of the plight of terrorism victims.

The Saunders murder and Greek preparations for the 2004 Olympics contributed to a political and public opinion climate more supportive of effective counterterrorism measures. The Prime Minister, his cabinet colleagues, and opposition leaders denounced the murder of Saunders and spoke out against terrorism in general. The Greek media provided extensive coverage of Heather Saunders' eloquent public statements in the aftermath of her husband's murder. The public widely observed a national moment of silence for all victims of terrorism, and Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos held an unprecedented memorial service for all Greek and foreign victims of terrorism in Greece.

The police sought to involve the public in the Saunders investigation and encouraged witnesses to come forward. Minister of Public Order (MPO) Khrisokhoidhis led the government's efforts, which included increasing the reward for information on terrorist attacks to $2.5 million. The police also opened toll-free hotlines to enable informants to pass tips anonymously. Although failure to cordon off the Saunders crime scene initially hampered the investigation, the Greek police subsequently worked effectively with British investigators to pursue a small number of useful leads. At year's end, the British Defense Attache's murder remained unsolved.

In the spring, Revolutionary Nuclei, another far-left, nationalist terrorist group, bombed buildings belonging to two Greek construction companies linked to the Greek Government, military, and NATO. Police safely removed a bomb the group had left outside the Peiraiefs (Piraeus) office of a former PASOK minister. On 12 November, the group mounted three separate but nearly simultaneous attacks against a British bank, a US bank, and the studio and home of the Greek sculptor whose statue of Gen. George C. Marshall is displayed at the US Embassy.

Throughout the year, a host of anarchist groups claimed responsibility for an average of two arson or bomb attacks per week on offices, shops, and vehicles, almost always in Athens; many of the targeted vehicles belonged to foreign diplomats, foreign companies, Greek officials, and Greek public-sector executives. The two most prolific groups, Black Star and Anarchist Faction, together carried out 31 attacks in 2000. No fatalities or arrests resulted from these attacks.

Suspected terrorist Avraam Lesperoglou, already imprisoned since December 1999 for passport fraud and draftdodging, was convicted in October of attempting to murder a policeman and sentenced to 17 years. Lesperoglou, who is suspected of being linked to Revolutionary People's Struggle (ELA) and possibly other groups, still awaits trial on several terrorism-related murder charges.

In late November, a Justice Ministry expert committee began drafting legislation on terrorism and organized crime for presentation to Parliament. The controversial legislation is expected to provide for greater admissability of evidence from undercover police operations, use of DNA evidence, adjudication by all-judge panels of certain classes of terrorist cases, and protection of witnesses. The Greek Government has indicated the legislation will be consistent with EU standards and international norms.

In 2000, Greece and the United States ratified a mutual legal assistance treaty and signed a police cooperation memorandum to enhance bilateral cooperation on law enforcement, including terrorism. During the year, MPO Khrisokhoidhis met with cabinet-level officials in the United States and in the United Kingdom and signed a bilateral counterterrorism agreement in London. By year's end, Greece had signed all 12 and ratified all but two of the UN counterterrorism conventions.


Last Updated on Thursday, 19 March 2009 16:21

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