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Hostage-taking at Greek jail after failed escape

THANASSIS STAVRAKIS

Published: Monday, Dec. 12 2011 11:50 a.m. MST

Police close the road outside Korydallos prison in western Athens, Monday, Dec. 12, 2011. Inmates at Greece's largest jail have taken at least one prison guard hostage, police and justice ministry officials said Monday.

Thanassis Stavrakis, Associated Press

KORYDALLOS, Greece — Inmates at Greece's largest jail took at least one prison guard hostage Monday following a failed escape attempt by a convicted murderer and members of an anarchist group, police and justice ministry officials said.

Special police forces were sent to Korydallos prison, west of Athens. The Justice Ministry confirmed that convicted murderer and racketeer Panagiotis Vlastos was involved in the incident. It said negotiations with the inmates had begun, but gave no other details.

The hostage was taken after Vlastos staged a failed escape attempt, prison governor Yiannis Anestis said.

"At the moment, the situation is calm," Anestis told private television Antenna. He said suspected members of an armed anarchist group Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire were also involved in the failed escape attempt.

Riot police cordoned off streets outside the prison.

Having staged two previous escapes from Greek prisons, Vlastos, 41, is currently on trial at a special courtroom set up inside the prison accused of ordering the kidnapping of shipping tycoon Pericles Panagopoulos. The trial is the reason Vlastos was transferred to Korydallos prison from another jail in central Greece.

Panagopoulos, who made his fortune in the cruise and passenger shipping business, was kidnapped in January 2009, allegedly on the orders of Vlastos. Panagopoulos was released eight days later after his family paid a €30 million ransom to the kidnappers, most of whom were arrested later.

Vlastos has been involved in racketeering and other criminal activities from a young age and he first caught the public's attention in the 1990s as a result of a turf war with other crime families, during which he lost one of his two brothers. His other brother was killed in a shootout with police in 1998, during Vlastos' capture from his first escape from prison.

Korydallos, a maximum security prison located in a suburb west of Athens, has seen several escapes, the most spectacular of which were the two escapes by helicopter staged by convicted criminals Vassilis Paleokostas and Alket Rizaj in June 2006 and February 2009.

Nellas reported from Athens.

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