At about 5:55 AM on the morning of Friday, January 12, the United States Embassy in Athens, Greece was rocked by an explosion, recalling a similar 1996 incident at the same location.
At first, police released no comment; it was later revealed that, thus far, no one had yet been reported injured in Friday’s blast, which, Greek law enforcement has explained, took place outside the building. Property damage does not seem extensive at this time, though destruction has stricken the embassy’s exterior sign.
No cause has yet been named, though the first thought on the minds of many is terrorism. The February 15, 1996 mortar incident, when a terrorist group hit the embassy with an antiarmor rocket, was also bloodless. Revolutionary organization 17 November was suspected responsible for that attack, given their anti-American slant and the circumstances of the destruction. (On that same day, British authorities disabled a five-pound bomb hidden in a telephone booth on Charing Cross Road. The two crimes are unrelated.)
The Greek government has faced some criticism in dealing with terrorists in the past, though efforts were ramped up to deal with the threat in response to concerns regarding the 2004 Olympics-perhaps in unconscious reaction to fears of a repeat of the infamous Munich incident of 1972.
Friday’s violence comes on the heels of President Bush’s promise to continue fighting the war on terror and to recommit troops to the cause; it is uncertain if the threat in Greece will fuel war hawks’ defensive fires or be claimed as a sign of international intolerance of the Middle East conflict. It also mirrors uncomfortably with the mysterious gas leak in Manhattan, which briefly raised terrorism fears in the city that had previously faced 9/11. The international climate leaves little room for shrugging off these concerns; still, given the lateness of the hour, the White House has not yet released a statement.
Attacks on U.S. embassies are neither new nor old news; as recently as September 2006, terrorists attempted to blow up the embassy in Damascus in Syria. Following 9/11, violent incidents have occurred at embassies in locations as diverse as Pakistan, Lima and Jordan.
Police have surrounded the embassy compound and cordoned off the surrounding area. The mass of official vehicles and fire trucks has, predictably, caused severe traffic delays in the busy capital of Greece in the midst of the morning rush hour. Updates are expected as state-sponsored NET television reports on this disturbing development.