9:37am Friday 1st March 2013
A 20-year-old Greek man has been arrested on suspicion of belonging to a racist gang that mounted a string of attacks on Pakistani immigrants in Athens last year.
The arrest came amid a crackdown on surging racist crime in recession-mired Greece, which is the European Union's main entry point for illegal immigrants and has seen a sharp rise in support for a far-right xenophobic party.
A police statement said the suspect is believed to have taken part in three stabbings and one road attack - three of which were carried out within the space of one hour in September.
The arrest followed an investigation by a special police anti-racism unit formed last month.
International human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concern at the anti-immigrant violence, which has been linked with the meteoric rise of the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party.
The party, which emerged from the margins of politics to enter Parliament with nearly 7% of the vote in last year's national elections, is now polling third, with about 12%.
It denies accusations from mainstream parties that it incites racist attacks and maintains a neo-Nazi agenda - although it is fond of Nazi literature and references.
In one of the Athens assaults, a group of nine men burst into a Pakistani barber shop, stabbing a Pakistani employee and a Greek customer who protested, then tried to burn it down.
That case had been highlighted in a recent Amnesty International report on Greece's treatment of immigrants.
Amnesty said that when police arrived to investigate the attack they arrested two undocumented Pakistanis in the shop. It also cited witnesses as saying young Greek thugs had repeatedly threatened to close the establishment.
Six people were injured, two with severe stab wounds, in the other Athens attacks that the suspect is accused of taking part in.
In one assault, three men in a car intentionally knocked over a motorbike with two Pakistanis on it, stole the bike, then burned it.
The suspect faces charges such as attempted murder, arson and robbery. Police said they have requested prosecutors' permission to publish his name and photo, for potential use in solving other similar attacks.
Last month, two Greeks were arrested for the suspected racist fatal stabbing of a Pakistani cyclist in Athens.
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