Greece halts mail, hunts for bombing suspects

ATHENS, Greece — Greece stopped all airborne parcels headed overseas and screened thousands of packages Wednesday in an attempt to stop a spate of bombings blamed on Greek militants targeting diplomatic missions and European leaders.

A 48-hour ban on all outgoing parcel deliveries abroad took effect after mail bombs reached the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and halted flights for hours at Italy’s Bologna airport, where a package addressed to Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi caught fire.

The attacks, which followed an unsuccessful Yemen-based mail bomb plot, highlighted the difficulty of keeping bombs out of the international delivery system. Several European governments urged vigilance but didn’t say they were increasing measures already in place at leaders’ offices.

Merkel, however, called for improved checks on cargo deliveries.

“This incident and the problem that we had at the chancellery with a suspect package must give cause to better coordinate checks on cargo inside Europe … and then as far as possible worldwide,” Merkel told the daily Passauer Neue Presse.

At least 11 mail bombs were detected in the Greek capital on Monday and Tuesday — one addressed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and eight to the Athens embassies of Bulgaria, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Chile, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Three of the bombs exploded or caught fire in Athens, causing minor damage and leaving one delivery service employee burned.

Police investigators said none of the devices examined so far contained lethal amounts of explosives — unlike those used by the Yemeni militants.

Government spokesman George Petalotis said that the Greek mail bombs had no link to Islamist groups.

Authorities are questioning two suspects arrested Monday in connection with the bombings, and released the photographs of five other suspects believed to be associated with them. The suspects, most in their early 20s, have been linked to an anarchist militant group called Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire.

Greece has suffered a spike in militant attacks — including a deadly letter bombing earlier this year — since massive riots in 2008 triggered by a police shooting of a teenage boy.

The country was plagued by far-left terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s, with more than 20 people killed in gunfire and bombing attacks. Although the deadliest of these organizations were eradicated over the past decade, their attacks have inspired several small radical anarchist or nihilist groups violently

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