A wave of violent attacks against immigrants by suspected right-wing extremists has put Muslims and the police on alert in rundown parts of Athens with burgeoning migrant populations.
Immigrants have been beaten and stabbed near central squares, and several makeshift mosques have been burned and vandalized. In the most grievous attack, at the end of October, the assailants locked the door of a basement prayer site and hurled firebombs through the windows, seriously wounding four worshipers.
“The attacks are constant – I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Naim Elghandour, who moved to Athens from Egypt in the 1970s and now heads the Muslim Association of Greece. “I used to be treated like an equal. Now I’m getting death threats.”
Tensions in neglected, crime-ridden parts of Athens with growing immigrant communities have been mounting over the past two years. Highlighting expanding public discontent, the extreme right-wing group Chrysi Avgi, or “Golden Dawn”, won its first ever seat on the Athens City Council in local elections three weeks ago. The group mustered strong support in working-class neighborhoods in the capital and elsewhere in Greece by describing migrants as a drain on the economy, which is reeling from a debt crisis, and calling for immediate deportations.
The Greek news media linked the group to the violence after a spray-painted cross merged with a circle – a symbol used by extreme rightists worldwide – was found on the wall of a firebombed prayer site.