A total of eight police officers were struck by gunfire during a deadly shootout with three or four assault-rifle wielding perpetrators Tuesday afternoon in the working-class district of Renti, near the port of the Piraeus.
Two motorcycle policemen were fatally shot in the incident, one dying at the scene and the other roughly three hours later at a local hospital. The fallen officers were identified as Georgios Skylogiannis, 22, who joined the force in 2009 and special police guard Ioannis Evangelinelis, 23, who joined in 2008. Another policeman is in serious but stable condition after sustaining a gunshot wound in the abdomen, while a fourth was shot in the knee.
The violent incident occurred during a police chase and after the vehicle driven by the gunmen, a Volvo SUV, was identified as sporting stolen license plates. The vehicle itself, later found abandoned with two assault rifles and a handgun inside, was also stolen from a private residence in northern Athens that was also burglarised.
Another four motorcycle officers were hit by gunfire but emerged unscathed thanks to the bullet-proof vests and helmets they were wearing. The assault rifles were identified as the AK-47 type, i.e. “Kalashnikovs”.
The incident comes a week after police intercepted a getaway car on a south-central highway carrying five armed suspects, all Albanian nationals, suspected of robbing a handful of banks and post offices in the Fthiotida prefecture in the course of several days. One suspect was killed during the incident while the others were arrested.
Condolences by political leadership
In a statement immediately after the announcement that the two young police officers had died in the line of duty, President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias issued the following announcement:
“I want to express my sincerest condolences over the death of these two young police officers, who fell in the line of duty. I am certain that Greek society was shocked by the fact that these two young men were killed in their attempt to protect law and order and social peace. We are living in rough times; crime is becoming more and more violent and acquiring ever more abhorrent forms … Again, allow me to express my solidarity and support to the relatives of the victims.”
Government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis also issued a statement on behalf of PM George Papandreou and the entire government, where he also expresses his stern condemnation for the “cowardly attack on the police officers in Renti”.
“To the families of the victims, we would like to express our condolences, and to the injured, our best wishes for a speedy recovery,” Petalotis said, while citing a certainty that the criminals will soon be arrested and punished.
Minute of silence in Parliament for officers killed in line of duty; ministry flags at half-mast
A minute of silence was observed in parliament on Wednesday in honor of the two police officers killed in Tuesday’s bloody incident in Renti, near Piraeus, when gunmen opened fire on a squad of DIAS motorbike police giving chase.
Parliament President Filippos Petsalnikos said that he felt "crushed" by the deaths of the two young men and underlined the parliament’s gratitude to all police officers who put their lives at risk on a daily basis.
Expressing the parliament’s deep regret for the two dead police officers and wishing a speedy recovery to their wounded fellow officers, Petsalnikos underlined that “they put their lives at risk under dangerous and adverse circumstances to ensure the citizens’ safety and protection. They are appreciated and honored for this.”
By order of Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, meanwhile, flags at the ministry and all its services, as well as the Greek Police (ELAS) and the coast guard, will fly at half-mast until Thursday when the two slain officers are to be buried.
Petalotis on officer deaths: Greece still one of Europe's safest countries
Greece continues to be one of the safest countries in Europe and this was largely due to the titanic efforts of the Greek Police and especially the 'Dias' motorbike squads, who were always on the scene when they were needed, government spokesman George Petalotis stressed on Wednesday.
The spokesman made the statement one day after two 'DIAS' motorcycle police were shot dead during a police pursuit of armed criminals, in the southwest Athens district of Renti.
Petalotis underlined the horror of the government and Greek citizens at the "cowardly murder" of the two officers and extended the government's sincere condolences and solidarity to their families. He also wished a speedy recovery to a number of other officers injured in the same incident.
The spokesman underlined that the two young police officers, aged 22 and 23, respectively, had fallen in the line of duty, while trying to protect the safety of society, and come up against bloodthirsty killers.
Noting that the 'Dias' teams were seen as one of the most positive steps for ensuring the security of Greek citizens, Petalotis underlined that this was not going to change and also said that the tragic incident of the two deaths should not be linked with shortages of infrastructure, even those did exist.
Colleagues of slain policemen rally outside Attica Police headquarters
Policemen in Athens held a demonstration outside the Attica General Police Headquarters (GADA) at noon on Wednesday, in memory of two young colleagues of the DIAS motorbike squad who were killed during a shootout on Tuesday night.
Attica Police Employees Union president Yiannis Makris said that the police have been abandoned by the state, adding that "we are not willing to sacrifice human lives when others are not able to do their jobs properly".
Makris said that the DIAS squad policemen lack the proper training and required equipment, and charged that when the incident erupted and calls were made to patrol cars for assistance, there were no patrol cars available because "they were busy guarding soccer club presidents".
Union vice-president Antonis Liakopoulos said the service has tragic shortages.
Police headquarters on investigation into shooting that claimed the lives of two policemen
Attica security police senior officials believe the gunmen who opened fire on DIAS motorbike squad police on Tuesday evening, killing two officers and seriously injuring two others, are part of an organised car theft gang and perhaps involved in other armed robberies or even more serious crimes.
Police said on Thursday that they have found 23 shells from Kalashnikov rifles and 17 9mm shells at the scene of the shooting in the district of Renti, near Piraeus, as well as 9 bullets while, at a short distance, they also found a pistol clip with five bullets.
A police announcement said the Volvo jeep used by the gunmen had been stolen on January 17 from a used car dealership in Nea Erythrea, on the 18th kilometer of the Athens-Lamia national highway, while its license plates had also been stolen the same day at the same dealership from another vehicle.
A total of 8 Volvo vehicles had been stolen that day from the dealership, one of which was used in a recent armed robbery of a National Bank branch in the Aspra Spitia town in Viotia prefecture and later abandoned, while three others had been used to transport illegal migrants and were seized by police in Kavala and Larissa, the announcement said.
Police are also investigating the prospect that the perpetrators of Tuesday's robbery of a kiosk in the Menidi district of Athens, who later riddled the DIAS policemen with bullets, are involved in the Aspra Spitia robbery or acquired the vehicle from another vehicle theft gang.
The Volvo involved in Tuesday's shooting and a kalashnikov and pistol used against the police officers, which were found in the vehicle the gunmen abandoned in Moschato after the shooting, are still being investigated by the police crime lab, and a ballistics test will turn up whether the weapons have been used in other criminal actions.
The Menidi kiosk robbery is similar to another armed robbery of a kiosk in Ano Liossia a few days earlier, in which the kiosk owner was killed, police are examining the prospect that the perpetrators were the same in both instances.
Police are continuing a manhunt for the gunmen.
The GADA announcement further said that the DIAS squad chasing the Volvo they spotted near Renti after the robbery of the kiosk in Menidi had called headquarters seeking back-up, and within four minutes 14 DIAS teams, in other words 28 policemen, were dispatched, as well as 7 patrol cars, bringing the number to 56 police officers, with orders for all vehicles to head towards Piraeus and close off all the escape routes.
Meanwhile, several other patrol cars had reached the scene of the shooting, as indicated by the bullets from the perpetrators' weapons found in the helmets and bullet-proof vests of four more officers apart from the initial four, but without causing injury.
Weapons used in two policemen's slaying not used in other criminal act, police announcement says
The Kalashnikov weapon and the pistol found in the car used by the assassins of the two policemen in Renti on Tuesday afternoon were “clean.”
According to an announcement by the police, a ballistic examination completed in the laboratories of the crime service, revealed that the weapons have not been used in another criminal act. However, as was revealed by police sources, there had been another Kalashnikov weapon that the perpetrators took with them and police do not consider it improbable for the specific weapon to have been used in other crimes. The perpetrators did not fire with this weapon in the clash in Renti.
As it was clarified by the police investigation, the perpetrators were four and not three as was mentioned in initial reports and this results from the testimonies by witnesses of the armed robbery that they had carried out earlier at a kiosk in Menidi.
According to the testimonies, the robbery was carried out by three persons with two Kalashnikovs and a pistol while the fourth accomplice of theirs drove the stolen car.