x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bombs explode at Athens embassies

Parcel bombs exploded at the Russian and Swiss embassies in Athens on Tuesday as devices sent to three others were intercepted.

ATHENS // Parcel bombs exploded at the Russian and Swiss embassies in Athens on Tuesday and devices sent to three others were intercepted, the latest in a wave of attacks linked to left-wing extremists, police said.

The packages were similar to four devices addressed to embassies in the Greek capital and intercepted on Monday, including one addressed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

No-one was injured at either the Russian or Swiss embassies where packages ignited, police said.

A parcel left at the entrance to the Swiss embassy burst 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.

Police said a total of five parcel bombs had been discovered in the capital on Tuesday. Controlled explosions were carried out by police on suspect packages addressed to the German, Chilean and Bulgarian embassies.

One of the packages was destroyed outside the Greek parliament.

"A courier bearing a package for the Chilean embassy stopped in front of the police guard post at the Prime Minister's official residence and informed the officers there that it was possibly booby-trapped," a police statement said.

"After it was checked and the presence of explosive material was confirmed, it was taken to a safe open area outside parliament. After the area was evacuated, the package was destroyed in a controlled explosion."

"Furthermore, another package was destroyed by controlled explosion outside a courier company after it was found to contain a makeshift explosive device. The object had been returned as suspect by the embassy of Germany which was the apparent recipient."

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.

Police arrested two men suspected of links to a far-left group on Monday after the discovery of the first booby-trapped packages.

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 said.

"Things are under control," he added.

The two men arrested on Monday, aged 22 and 24, were armed with Glock handguns. One of them was also wearing a bulletproof jacket and a wig.

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 against 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.

Police have not linked any known group to that attack.