ATHENS Greek police have asked a prosecutor for permission to check Golden Dawn lawmakers' phone records as part of an investigation into the killing of an anti-racism rapper by a supporter of the far-right party, police and court sources said on Friday.
The government has already asked judges to investigate the country's third-biggest party for evidence that might link it to the death of Pavlos Fissas, who was stabbed to death on Tuesday night after being ambushed by about 30 unknown assailants.
Police want to check the call logs of two Golden Dawn members of parliament and a local party chief to find out who called whom and when on the night Fissas was killed, a police official said on condition of anonymity.
From now on, any criminal activity believed to be carried out by Golden Dawn members or supporters would be taken up by the anti-terrorism squad, police said in a statement.
The government says it believes the party is a criminal organization and a threat to public safety.
Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Dendias stripped Golden Dawn lawmakers of police guards on Friday, which all parliamentarians are entitled to.
The government has quarreled for months over whether to ban Golden Dawn, which rose from obscurity to win 18 out of 300 seats in parliament last year, on a fiercely anti-immigrant and anti-corruption agenda.
Golden Dawn says the suspect, a self-proclaimed supporter, was not a member of the party. It has repeatedly denied involvement in the attack and its leader, Nikos Mihaloliakos, said the party was a victim of a "witch hunt".
The seemingly politically-motivated killing of Fissas, who performed raps as Killah P, has outraged Greek society, divided by years of economic hardship. Rallies to mark his death have been held in several cities, and some have turned violent.
The 45-year-old man who admitted to stabbing Fissas was due to appear before a prosecutor on Saturday. He has been pictured in Greek media arm in arm with a Golden Dawn lawmaker.
Media have published photographs of him participating in Golden Dawn activities and groups, including a paramilitary-style security unit and "Greeks-only" food handouts.
Centre-left newspaper Ethnos, quoting a former party activist who declined to be named, said the security unit was the under direct control of one of the Golden Dawn lawmakers and the local party chief, whose phones authorities want to screen.
Golden Dawn lawmaker Ilias Kasidiaris said on Friday that the party planned to sue Dendias for "false accusations" as well as all TV stations, newspapers and politicians "who defame Golden Dawn and threaten a legal political party".
The party's emblem resembles a swastika and its members have been seen giving Nazi salutes but the party rejects the neo-Nazi label.
A step-by-step approach, beginning with the prosecution of individual members would be a more adequate way to deal with the party, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said.
The government on Thursday passed on to Greece's highest civilian court a file containing 32 cases of suspected crimes linked to members of Golden Dawn, including four knife attacks on immigrants, one of which was fatal.
Judges are expected to investigate whether these incidents form the pattern of a criminal organization. According to court officials, this would not lead to a direct ban of the party but raise penalties on those who instigated and perpetrated them.
(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Louise Ireland)