ATHENS, Greece (AP) — An immigrant rights group on Thursday accused a Greek far-right party of being behind hundreds of violent attacks on immigrants as part of a stepped-up "terror campaign" aimed at driving them out of the country.
Leading activist Petros Constantinou told a news conference that the number of such attacks had ballooned since Sunday's crucial national election, which saw the extreme Golden Dawn party nab 18 seats in parliament.
"There's a huge pogrom underway now that has been organized by Golden Dawn gangs, with fascist and racist attacks in neighborhoods and in subway and bus stations," said Constantinou, coordinator of the United Against Racism and Fascist Violence Movement. "Right now we have dozens of injured, stabbing victims."
Constantinou said Golden Dawn's strong showing in the poll has emboldened it to step up such violence, and he accused police of covering up for the party.
"What these neo-Nazis are striving to do right now is to convert their entry into parliament into legitimate cooperation with the Greek police" and judicial authorities, Constantinou said.
Golden Dawn vociferously rejects the neo-Nazi label and denies involvement in anti-immigrant attacks. The party insists it is a nationalist patriotic group and campaigned on a platform of ridding the country of illegal immigrants and cleaning up crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Constantinou said campaign pledges by new Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to kick out illegal immigrants further encouraged Golden Dawn to carry out such attacks, which he said also aimed to weaken the resolve of left-wing labor unions to which many of these immigrants belong.
He also said authorities are aware of video footage of a stabbing attack against an immigrant at a central Athens subway station on Monday — a day after the elections — and have so far done nothing about it.
The head of the Immigrant Workers' Union, Javied Aslam, who also is a leader of Greece's Pakistani community, said victims no longer trust Greek authorities to protect them because police are turning a blind eye to the violence.
"People conducting such acts of terror can't say that they are a legitimate political party," Aslam said. He also urged mainstream political parties to strongly condemn such attacks, and said mosques and immigrant homes also were being targeted.
Police spokesman Athanasios Kokalakis dismissed the accusations as baseless, saying authorities investigate all filed complaints.
"Police have deployed sizeable forces in areas where immigrants could be targeted for attacks, but officers can't be everywhere," Kokalakis told The Associated Press. "Police are here to protect everyone, regardless of their status."
Mahmoud Abouhamed, a spokesman for hundreds of Egyptian fishermen who legally work in Greece, said the fishermen have also been targeted by Golden Dawn.
As proof of the stepped-up attacks, Constantinou pointed to five Pakistani men attending the news conference who bore visible wounds, two of whom had deep head cuts requiring stitches.
One such man was 25-year-old Ali Kaser, who said his swollen, bruised face was the result of an attack by several men while he was heading to work a day before the elections.
Another man, Mohammed Zahir, 23, said police made him swear on the Quran — Islam's holy book — to back up his claim that Golden Dawn members had attacked him.