ATHENS Leftist urban guerrillas shot dead a Greek anti-terrorism policeman in Athens on Wednesday in the worst attack since riots in December launched a wave of bombings and shootings in Greece.
Police said the attackers, believed to belong to the Rebel Sect group, shot the 41-year-old officer several times at close range. He died in his car as they fled on motorcycles in the densely populated Patissia area of Athens.
"It was a cold-blooded murder ... they just drew their guns and murdered him," police spokesman Panagiotis Stathis told reporters at the scene.
Leftist and anarchist groups have unleashed a series of attacks against police, political and business targets since a policeman shot dead a teenager in Athens in December, triggering Greece's worst riots in decades.
The violence has rocked Greece's conservative government, clinging to a one-seat majority in parliament as its popularity plummets, mainly as a result of a slowing economy.
The early morning attack was similar to the shooting of a policeman in January, claimed by the Revolutionary Struggle urban guerrillas, Greece's most militant leftist group. That officer survived.
After Wednesday's attack, police found 24 shells from two guns and witnesses said at least two more people were involved. Nine of the shells matched a weapon used by Rebel Sect to fire dozens of shots against the ALTER TV station earlier this year, a police statement said.
It was the group's first deadly hit after emerging with a gun and grenade attack against an Athens police station in February.
The policeman, a father of one child, had just taken over a shift guarding a witness involved in a case against another urban guerrilla group.
The witness was in a protection program after testifying against a member of the now defunct People's Revolutionary Struggle (ELA) group, who was convicted with others in 2004.
"The victim had been shot with at least 15 to 20 bullets," Stathis said.
A coroner told reporters at the scene the policeman had his gun in his holster, showing he did not have time to react.
"He carries multiple fire arm entry wounds, mostly on the left side of his body," public coroner Filippos Koutsaftis told reporters. "His gun was in his belt."
The unidentified attackers disappeared in the streets of Patissia and a manhunt was launched in the area.
Police said there was no warning or any claim of responsibility for the attack. Forensic evidence was expected to identify which group might be responsible.
Political parties condemned the attack and the government said it was determined to bring the culprits to justice.
"There will be no tolerance for criminal actions that claim lives, target society as a whole and democracy," said government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros.