ATHENS, Greece -- A convicted gunman for an extreme left-wing group who once was Greece's most-wanted terrorist was granted a 48-hour furlough from an Athens prison Thursday, fueling a political debate on prison sentencing and law and order.
Dimitris Koufodinas, 59, is serving life for participating in 11 of the 23 assassinations attributed to the now-defunct armed group November 17. His victims include the brother-in-law of the current conservative Greek opposition leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who described the furlough as "inconceivable."
The November 17 or 17N group evaded police for nearly 30 years until one of its members was arrested after a botched bomb attack in 2002. The event triggered numerous arrests and Koufodinas' conviction the following year for the murders as well as for armed robberies and bomb attacks.
The group's victims included military officials and diplomats from the United States, Britain and Turkey, as well as prominent Greek businessmen and politicians.
Casually dressed and smiling, Koufodinas walked out of the high-security Korydallos prison in Athens Thursday and was hugged by a small group of friends and supporters.
The United States condemned his 2-day release and described Koufodinas as a "convicted terrorist." U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. Embassy in Athens had conveyed significant concerns about the furlough to the Greek government.
According to police accounts, Koufodinas posed as a beekeeper and math teacher, but for years operated under the pseudonym Loukas as the 17N's lead gunman, planner, recruiter and cashier.
He described details of the organization's attacks in a 2014 autobiography without referring to them in the first person.
The conditions of Koufodinas' time outside prison were set under a law passed in 1989. The furlough nonetheless touched off a spat between Greece's left-wing government and the opposition New Democracy party. The conservative New Democracy accused the government of endangering public safety and urged the Justice Ministry to block his leave.
"Greeks are in shock at the sight of 17N's chief killer, Dimitris Koufodinas, being granted a two-day leave. He is a terrorist who has not expressed a trace of remorse to the families of 11 people he murdered," party spokeswoman Maria Spyraki said.
Greece's National Association of Prison Wardens said Koufodinas had earned the right to request a leave.
"Dimitris Koufodinas has had no disciplinary infringement while in prison and has met all the conditions required for a furlough," the association said.
"There should be an end to disputes over (rights) that are self-evident," the wardens groups said. "The law must be upheld."
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