A nonfunctional improvised explosive device recovered outside a Citibank branch in Athens is likely a sign of an inexperienced bombmaker. Nevertheless, if this person is not identified and captured, future devices may prove to be more reliable.
In the early hours of Feb. 18, Greek police disabled an improvised explosive device (IED) left in a stolen vehicle parked outside a Citibank branch in a suburb of Athens. The device reportedly was constructed of five cooking-gas cylinders filled with an improvised explosive mixture and was designed to be activated by a mechanical clock.
According to police, a security guard noticed two men park the car in front of the bank at 4:30 a.m. and called police when the men did not return. The police responded, then called an explosive ordnance disposal unit, which rendered the device safe. Police said they received no warning call that the device had been planted (such calls are not uncommon in Europe, where some Marxist bombers try to limit civilian casualties), though the bombers’ planting of the device at 4:30 a.m. suggests that the strike was meant to be symbolic and not to cause mass casualties. Banks are among the foreign and commercial targets frequently selected for attacks by militant leftists.
Over the past few years, Greece has witnessed a resurgence of violence by left-wing militant groups such as Revolutionary Struggle, which has claimed similar attacks in the past. Greece also has seen a rash of attacks against foreign commercial and diplomatic interests using explosive-actuated incendiary devices, which are most often made of cooking-gas cylinders.
Since the Dec. 6, 2008, shooting of a teenager by police during a protest, the number of shooting and firebomb attacks in Greece has increased. However, the group or groups behind these recent attacks had yet to use a device as large as the one recovered outside the Citibank on the morning of Feb. 18.
We have not been able to obtain a detailed report regarding this device, but the facts of the case — a vehicle obviously abandoned outside a guarded bank in the early hours of the morning with little activity on the street to cover the bombers’ activities — make it safe to assume that the device was intended to explode shortly after it was delivered, and that it did not function as designed. The fact that the device did not detonate presents investigators with an opportunity to collect a treasure trove of forensic evidence that might have been lost, or at least more difficult to recover, had the device worked. This evidence should aid them in their efforts to identify the bombmaker and could even provide links to prior attacks, such as those conducted against commercial and foreign targets using the explosive-actuated incendiary devices.
A malfunction is not uncommon when a self-taught bombmaker constructs an IED using a new design and does not have the time or the place to test it. Essentially testing the device when he deploys it, the bombmaker applies lessons learned from one operation to the next. This progression of bombmaking competence has been displayed in many cases, such as the Unabomber attacks in the United States. Based on these cases, we believe it is highly likely that if the Athens bombmaker is not identified and arrested, he will continue along his learning curve and eventually construct more reliable — and perhaps even larger — IEDs.