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2 injured in bomb blasts at Swiss, Chilean embassies in Rome

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police suspect anarchist movements. One victim is in danger of losing one, if not both, hands.

December 24, 2010|By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from London — Two parcel bombs exploded in the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome on Thursday, wounding two men in attacks that bore similarities to a wave of diplomatic letter bombs in Greece last month.

An anarchist organization claimed responsibility for at least one of the blasts, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. The group, calling itself the Informal Anarchist Federation, left a note in a box found near one of the victims that said, "Long live anarchy."

The explosions came during a period of heightened nervousness throughout Europe over the possibility that Islamic terrorists might try to stage a major attack over the Christmas holiday.

But Italian news reports say police inquiries are veering toward anarchist movements that have launched similar attacks around Europe recently, particularly in Greece and Italy, where public austerity plans have sparked anti-government protests, some of them violent.

One anarchist group targeted the Swiss Embassy in Rome two months ago. An explosive device found in the street outside the mission's wall Oct. 5 contained a message demanding the release of three convicted militant environmental activists being held in Swiss jails.

ANSA quoted Interior Minister Roberto Maroni as saying that police were following an "anarchic" trail "because there are precedents." Last month, suspected anarchists sent letter bombs to a number of embassies in Athens.

"Greece, Spain and Italy have anarchic insurgent groups that are tightly interconnected," Maroni said. "The fact that these package bombs have arrived at two embassies lead us to think that this is the right track."

Other embassies in Rome were placed on alert after the explosions. Suspicious packages were examined at the Ukrainian, Slovenian and Estonian embassies, but those turned out to be false alarms.

The first blast Thursday morning wounded a Swiss Embassy employee who opened the small package and is now in danger of losing one, if not both, hands. Hours later, the second blast, at the Chilean Embassy, injured employee Cesar Mella, 50.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called the attacks "a deplorable act of violence" and ordered a warning be put out to all embassies as well as Italian diplomatic missions abroad.

The Roman daily newspaper Il Messaggero reported that Greek police have been called in by their Italian counterparts to help with the investigation.

In the Athens incidents last month, a letter bomb addressed to the Mexican Embassy exploded at the offices of a private courier company, lightly injuring an employee. Other parcel bombs bound for the embassies of Bulgaria, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and Switzerland were intercepted, as was one addressed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But a letter bomb slipped past security at Athens International Airport and arrived at German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office in Berlin. Another addressed to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi caught fire at the airport in the city of Bologna.

Greek police arrested two suspected anarchists in connection with the bombs.

Thursday's attacks in Rome showed "technical affinities" with the Athens letter bombs, commentator Antonio Ferrari said on the website of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. He warned of a "very high risk" of further bombs.

Il Messaggero noted that there also had been minor attacks recently against targets in northern Italy by a group claiming to be close to a Chilean anarchist group.

Italy has a long tradition of anti-government extremism in times of political and economic crisis. The 1970s political turmoil in Europe during the Cold War included the growth of both left-wing militants and neo-fascist groups. The diehard ultra-leftist Red Brigades carried out kidnappings and the assassination of onetime Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

The latest attacks jangled European nerves already frayed by warnings of possible terrorist attacks during the holiday season.

A suicide bomber killed himself and injured two others two weeks ago in a crowded shopping district in Stockholm, the Swedish capital.

This week, British authorities arrested 12 suspected Islamic militants who they feared were plotting a large-scale attack, possibly on high-profile targets in London.

Stobart is a Times staff writer. Times staff writer Henry Chu contributed to this report.

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