The U.S. Embassy is seen after an explosion in Athens early Friday, Jan. 12, 2007. Police cordoned off streets around the U.S. Embassy in Athens early Friday, Jan. 12, 2007, after an explosion inside the embassy compound.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
A rocket struck the U.S. Embassy early Friday, exploding inside the modern, glass-fronted building but causing no injuries in an attack that Greek authorities said was probably carried out by a domestic terrorist group.
The small anti-tank missile narrowly missed the large blue-and-white U.S. seal on the embassy's facade and pierced the building above the front entrance shortly before 6 a.m. It damaged a bathroom on the third floor near the ambassador's office and shattered windows in nearby buildings.
"There were no injuries and very minimal damage," U.S. Ambassador Charles Ries told reporters outside the embassy.
The 2.36-inch rocket, which police said was a weapon probably fired from a Russian-made launcher, struck a large marble beam on the third floor of the embassy, just above and to the left of the seal. It shattered a window and landed near some toilets.
The Pentagon has received a report on the attack but no request for any action, a military official said in Washington. There is no reason to believe that it was al-Qaida-related, but rather involves a separatist group, said the official, who is not authorized to speak on the subject and requested anonymity.
A U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, said there is no information that suggests a follow-up attack. That official also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Greek officials condemned the attack and said they would move quickly to find who was responsible for firing the rocket.
"It is very likely that this is the work of a domestic group," Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said. "We believe this effort to revive terrorism is deplorable and will not succeed."
His comments raised fears of resurgent violence by far-left Greek militants.
It was the first major attack against a U.S. target in Greece in more than a decade.
"We believe it is a symbolic act," Polydoras said. "It is an attempt to disrupt our country's international relations."
Polydoras said police were examining phone calls to a private security company claiming responsibility on behalf of a militant left-wing group called Revolutionary Struggle.
"There are one or two telephone calls, from unknown callers, who claimed that the Revolutionary Struggle assumes responsibility," Polydoras said. "We cannot rule out that they were genuine."
Revolutionary Struggle claimed responsibility for a May 2006 bomb attack on Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, in which nobody was injured.
Investigators were examining video from surveillance cameras and were canvassing the neighborhood around the building, on a busy street near Athens' main concert hall. The government also said it was seeking permission from the courts to view traffic control camera videos, which are confidential under Greece's strict privacy laws.
Officials closed the embassy for the day.
It was unclear if the launcher had been found, but the rocket was fired from across the six-lane boulevard.
Ries said there had been no warning of the attack, which he said came at a time when "the embassy had very few people in it."
"There can be no justification for such a senseless act of violence. ... The embassy was occupied at the time (but) nobody was hurt," he said. "We're treating it as a very serious attack."
Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis visited the embassy afterward.
"I came here to express the solidarity of the Greek people following this deplorable action," she said.
"Such actions in the past have had a very heavy cost for the country. ... The Greek government is determined to undertake every effort to not allow such phenomena to be repeated in the future."
Polydoras said police would set up a task force on the attack, headed by a former counterterrorism chief who eradicated the far-left November 17 group in 2002.
November 17 carried out a similar rocket attack against the embassy in 1996, causing minor damage and no injuries.
The group was blamed for killing 23 people - including U.S., British and Turkish officials - and dozens of bomb attacks.
In 2003, a special court gave multiple life sentences to November 17's leader, chief assassin and three other members. Lesser sentences were given to 10 others.
Associated Press writers Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Katherine Shrader and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.