Parcel bombs target Merkel, Athens embassies
Parcel bombs exploded at the Russian and Swiss embassies in Athens and devices sent to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and three other embassies were intercepted Tuesday in concerted attacks linked to left-wing extremists.
Two parcels containing explosives hidden inside hollowed-out books were destroyed in controlled explosions at Athens airport late Tuesday as Greek police struggled to contain the attacks, first uncovered on Monday.
But it remained unclear if similar packages had already left the country aboard planes.
The device addressed to Merkel reached her offices in Berlin before being intercepted, the chancellery said. It was delivered by courier company UPS.
Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the parcel contained explosives and had been mailed from Greece on Sunday.
The device was built in the same way as the bomb that burst into flames at the Swiss embassy in Athens earlier Tuesday, he said.
That parcel was left at the entrance to the Swiss embassy and ignited into flames 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," the ministry said.
Police said in a statement that a second booby-trapped package exploded at the Russian embassy without causing injury, adding the package was already being treated with suspicion by staff.
"A Greek organisation belonging to the anti-establishment movement is very likely" behind the attacks, Athens police spokesman Thanassis Kokkalakis told AFP.
The explosions in both cases were reported to be small, and there were no injuries.
Police said a total of five parcel bombs had been discovered in the capital on Tuesday before the two were found at the airport. Controlled explosions were carried out by police on suspect packages addressed to the German, Chilean and Bulgarian embassies.
Those packages were similar to four devices sent to embassies in the Greek capital that were intercepted on Monday, including one addressed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
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.
A Greek foreign ministry official said on Tuesday that embassy security had been strengthened and missions were warned to take extra vigilance when handling their correspondence.
"We have taken additional security measures and all embassies have been notified since Monday to be vigilant over their correspondence," foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras told AFP. "Things are under control."
On Monday, a package addressed to the Mexican embassy ignited, burning the hand of a female worker in a courier company.
The package intended for the Chilean embassy was destroyed outside the Greek parliament after the courier carrying it asked police stationed nearby to check it and explosives were detected inside, the police said.
The parcel for the German embassy was destroyed by controlled explosion outside a courier company where the embassy had returned it as suspect.
Police arrested two men suspected of links to a far-left group on Monday after the discovery of the first booby-trapped packages.
The two men arrested on Monday, aged 22 and 24, were armed with handguns. One of them was also 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 usually attributed to left-wing extremists. They are usually designed to avoid causing injury.
Cars with diplomatic licence plates are also regularly targeted in late-night arson attacks blamed on anarchists.
Parcel bombs are rare but a similar device fatally injured the then police minister's security chief in June after being smuggled into the heavily-guarded ministry building.
© 2010 AFP