Greek secret service to investigate arson claim

Greek secret service to investigate arson claim

Greek secret service to investigate arson claim

A man runs away from a fire near the village of Kalamoti on the eastern Aegean island of Chios. A NASA image (inset) shows a thick plume of smoke from wildfires on Chios island. AFP photos

Greece’s secret service will join the ongoing investigation of an unusually large number of wildfires across the country, to see if arson has been involved, an official said.

As Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias announced the decision on Aug. 21, more than 20 major blazes were raging out of control in Greece, including one that has ravaged the eastern Aegean island of Chios for four days, The Associated Press reported.

In many cases authorities have “indications, if not proof, that the fires were lit intentionally,” including blazes on Chios and the western resort island of Zakynthos, Dendias said. A spokesman for the fire service said on Aug. 21 that there have been a total of 282 blazes in the last three days alone, with 86 breaking out on Aug. 21, Greek daily Katimerini reported.

Number of fronts, timing raise doubts: Fire service

The number of fronts as well as the timing of the blazes, Nikos Tsongas said, suggests that they may be the product of orchestrated arson attacks. He specifically cited the case of Zakynthos, where four blazes started almost simultaneously at different points on the Ionian island. Authorities on the central Aegean island of Andros arrested two French tourists Aug. 19 on suspicion of starting a forest fire. A prosecutor planned to decide later on Aug. 21 whether to press charges against them.

In Chios, firefighters were battling two major fronts in central and southern areas of the island. About 360 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers were being assisted by two water-dropping planes and seven helicopters, the fire brigade said.

The blaze began quickly on Aug. 18, and authorities estimate that by Aug. 21 it had destroyed at least 12,000 hectares of vegetation amid the island’s fortified medieval villages. Meanwhile, a blaze near ancient Nemea in the northeastern Peloponnese on Aug. 21 closed the national highway from Corinth to Tripoli. Another fire that began on Aug. 20 in Troizonia in the eastern Peloponnese also continued to burn, as did a blaze in Gytheio, also in the Peloponnese, which began on Aug. 19. “We face an incredibly large number of fires,” said Dendias, adding that 589 wildfires have begun in the past 10 days alone.

Last year, a former Turkish prime minister told a Turkish newspaper that Turkey was behind forest fires in Greece in the 1990s. Speaking of a case publicly known as the Susurluk scandal, which revealed the deep state relation in Turkey, daily Birgün quoted Yılmaz as saying “[Turkey used] forest fire retaliation against Greece.” Yılmaz later denied the report.