Parcel bombs target German, Italian leaders, embassies

Parcel bombs target German, Italian leaders, embassies

Athens: Greece halted foreign mail deliveries Wednesday after nearly a dozen small parcel bombs were discovered addressed to the leaders of France, Germany and Italy and foreign embassies in Athens.

A package addressed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached her Berlin offices on Tuesday, when another for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was found on a courier flight forced into an emergency landing in Italy.

A similar package was found addressed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday in Athens in a campaign that has caused no serious injury and Greek authorities have linked to far-left Greek extremists.

Greece on Tuesday halted mail deliveries to foreign destinations for 48 hours as authorities struggled to deal with the wave of booby-trapped packages, most made to look like a parcel of books.

“The transport of mail and parcels abroad will be halted for 48 hours to enable follow-up inspections," the police department said in a statement Tuesday.

The parcel for Merkel was delivered to offices by the UPS courier company and discovered by staff who alerted police.

It had been posted from Greece two days ago and “could have caused not insignificant damage", German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. Measures were put in place to make sure it did not explode.

The package addressed to Berlusconi had been on a flight of the TNT courier company that was headed to Paris but diverted to Bologna in northern Italy when it was discovered late Tuesday, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.

The airport was closed as the plane was made to park far away from the terminal and completely unloaded, it said.

The package was found and caught fire as experts began opening it, the report said. The parcel was small, weighing around two kilograms (four pounds), and appeared to contain books.

Earlier Tuesday a similar device left at the entrance to the Swiss embassy in Athens ignited when it was being examined by staff, the Swiss foreign ministry said.

“The burst of flame occurred when employees were removing the external wrapping of the package," it said.

Police said a second booby-trapped package exploded at the Russian embassy without causing injury.

Two parcels containing explosives hidden inside hollowed-out books were destroyed in controlled explosions at Athens airport late Tuesday.

Others addressed to the German, Chilean and Bulgarian embassies were also discovered Tuesday and destroyed, police said.

On Monday a package addressed to the Mexican embassy ignited, burning the hand of a worker in a courier company. Others were discovered addressed to the Dutch and Belgian embassies, as well as the one for Sarkozy.

A Greek foreign ministry official said embassy security had been strengthened and missions were warned to be extra vigilant when handling their correspondence.

A “Greek organisation belonging to the anti-establishment movement is very likely" behind the attempted attacks, Athens police spokesman Thanassis Kokkalakis told AFP.

Police arrested two men suspected of links to a far-left group on Monday after the discovery of the first booby-trapped packages. Aged 22 and 24, they carried handguns and one was wearing a bulletproof jacket and a wig.

According to investigators, they have refused to identify themselves or to cooperate with the authorities.

The 22-year-old had been wanted by police as a suspected member of Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, a far-left group that appeared in 2008 and has carried out a wave of arson and minor bomb attacks on the offices and homes of politicians.

Attacks on government and police targets are commonplace in Greece and are often attributed to left-wing extremists. They are usually designed to avoid causing injury.

The campaign comes ahead of local elections on Sunday and during a period of social malaise after deep austerity measures adopted by the Socialist government to battle an unprecedented debt crisis.