ATHENS (Reuters) - A leading member of Greece's most deadly guerrilla group, November 17, began a two-day leave from prison on Thursday under a parole board ruling that triggered a storm of protest from critics of the leftist-led government.
Dimitris Koufodinas is serving several life terms for his role in the Marxist November 17 guerrilla group, which operated for almost three decades until Greek authorities arrested its leaders in 2002.
Its targets ranged from businessmen to diplomats. Its first victim was a CIA station chief in 1975, and its last a British embassy defence attache in 2000.
Prison authorities granted his request for temporary leave from jail on condition he report to a police station twice a day. It is his first such leave since he was jailed in 2003.
The release comes at a sensitive time for the government, frequently accused by opposition parties of being soft on crime and particularly anti-establishment groups with roots in leftist radicalism and anarchy.
The government has not commented on the issue.
Conservative lawmaker Dora Bakoyannis, whose husband Pavlos Bakoyannis was gunned down by Nov. 17 in 1989, was visibly angry during a live broadcast after his release from jail.
"He isn't just any terrorist. He was a leader, the ideological guide, the guy who wrote a book who said that after the murder (of Bakoyannis) he went to a tavern and celebrated. While my children were crying," she told Skai TV.
Dimitris Papadimoulis, a member of the ruling Syriza party and European lawmaker, said a law allowing prisoners home leave was introduced by Conservatives, but expressed some misgivings over the timing of the convict's leave.
Koufodinas, an amateur beekeeper known as 'poison hand' for the precision of his aim, has been kept at a high-security jail in Athens for 15 years. There, he wrote two books, one called "I was Born on Nov 17", and the second "13 Answers".
In a high profile trial in 2003, 15 people, including Koufodinas, were found guilty over the 23 killings and dozens of bomb attacks claimed by the guerrilla group.
A decade later, they were catapulted again into the spotlight after another convicted member, Christodoulos Xiros, absconded while on jail leave. A conservative administration was in power at the time.
Unrepentant, he called for a 'revolution' against the state while on the run. He was re-arrested in 2014, after Greece offered a 1 million euro bounty for help in capturing him.
The group took its name from the date of a 1973 student uprising against the military dictatorship. It is normally marked every Nov. 17 with street protests in Athens.
(Reporting By Michele Kambas, Editing by William Maclean)