Parcel Bomb Attacks Strike at Embassies in Rome

December 23, 2010

ROME — Diplomatic missions in Rome were hit by a coordinated assault of parcel bombs on Thursday, officials and news agencies reported, seriously injuring at least one person and injecting Europe with a new atmosphere of anxiety about possible terrorist plots ahead of the Christmas holiday. Police were conducting checks of all embassies in the capital, The Associated Press reported.

The first attack, a parcel bomb at the Swiss Embassy, exploded at midday. Shortly after, a second parcel bomb exploded at the Chilean Embassy here, wounding an employee, Reuters reported, and a suspicious package was reported at the Ukrainian Embassy.

It was not immediately clear who had sent the packages, by what means, or why the embassies had been chosen as targets. The Swiss embassy said that no one had claimed responsibility for the bomb there. The attacks appeared similar to those foiled in Greece last month, when crude explosive devices were sent to 12 embassies in Athens and two foreign leaders; two Greek men were later arrested.

The explosions rattled a city already on edge after violent student protests last week and ongoing security alerts across Europe this month. The Swiss Embassy said in a statement that a package containing a hidden explosive device detonated around noon when an embassy employee opened it, causing injuries to both of his hands. Those injuries appeared serious, said a spokesman for the Carabinieri, Italy’s paramilitary police. The employee, a 53-year-old Swiss national, was taken to a local hospital.

The package at the Chilean embassy exploded when an employee opened it, Reuters reported. A spokesman for the police could not immediately be reached for comment on that report. Shortly after that, news agencies reported that a suspicious package had been found at the Ukranian Embassy.

After the first explosion, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy quickly condemned what he called a “deplorable act of violence” against the Swiss Embassy and wished the employee a speedy recovery. Counterterrorism officials have opened up an investigation, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.

Bomb disposal experts checked the embassy building, located in the leafy Rome neighborhood of Parioli, but no one was evacuated, Reuters reported. “The ambassador is still on site,” Maurizio Mezzavilla, a police spokesman, told reporters at the scene.

The parcel explosions come two days after Rome police discovered a defective explosive device under a subway seat. That package — containing tubes, wiring and a small amount of explosive powder — “was too rudimentary” to work, the police said.

In Athens last month, three bombs exploded, two at the Swiss and Russian embassies and the third while en route to the Mexican Embassy. Athens police charged two Greek men, one a college student and the other unemployed, with terrorism offenses.

Europe remains in the grip of heightened terror alerts after a recent botched suicide attack in Sweden by an Iraqi-born, and terrorism arrests in Britain, Spain and France.

In October, the State Department cautioned American citizens about traveling to Europe, warning of a possible attack.

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