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Europe

EU Force to Investigate Letter Bombs

EU anti-terrorism officials plan to set up a joint force to investigate a series of letter bomb attacks on senior politicians. On Monday, two bombs exploded at offices in Belgium and the UK, though no one was hurt.

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A Belgian bomb expert carries a box with evidence.

Belgian officials said a further seven suspect packages were intercepted on Monday following the explosions at European Union parliamentarians' offices in Brussels and Manchester.

One of the packages was addressed to German EU parliamentarian Hans-Gert Pöttering. It exploded after an intern tried to open the letter. “It caught fire, there was a bang,” a spokesman told Reuters news agency.

Briefbombe gegen Hans-Gert Poettering

Hans-Gert Pöttering.

Pöttering (photo), a Christian Democrat who heads the largest parliamentary group in the European Parliament, was in his hometown of Osnabrück at the time, but left for Belgium immediately. “I am shocked and appalled and worry about my staff,” he told the German tabloid Bild.

Another bomb sent to British EU parliamentarian Gary Titley's office near Manchester exploded as well. A third package sent to Pöttering's deputy, the Spanish parliamentarian Jose Ignacio Salafranca, was detected before it detonated.

Bologna link

Like four other bombs sent to EU officials and institutions, the current series of parcels were all postmarked in Bologna and are believed to be linked to a series of letter bombs sent to several leaders in December.

Italy has said that Rome will lead a multinational task force to investigate the mailings. An unknown Italian group calling itself the Informal Anarchist Federation has claimed responsibility for two of the bombs. All of them were identical in size and incendiary composition, according to police officials.

The Italian interior ministry said the force would take two months to gather information on the phenomenon of "anarchist insurrection" in countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece before making their recommendations to police.

High profile targets

The letter bomb campaign began last month when a parcel exploded in the hands of EU Commission President Romano Prodi, who comes from the northern Italian town. He opened a package at home that was addressed to his wife, but remained unhurt when the bomb exploded.

Another bomb arrived at the Frankfurt office of European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet on Dec. 29, but was detected by security. Two more letter bombs were sent to Europol, the EU’s police agency, and Eurojust, the union’s body for the enhancement of judicial cooperation.

Security measures too lax?

EU-Präsident Romano Prodi vor dem europäischen Parlament

European Commission President Romano Prodi.

Pöttering criticized current security measures after Monday’s explosion: He called for a screening of all mail sent to members of the EU legislature, adding that so far only Prodi’s (photo) mail had been checked.

Elmar Bok, one of Pöttering’s colleagues, also said that Belgian authorities should increase the level of protection. “The letter should not have been able to get to Pöttering’s office in the first place,” Bok told the newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung in the eastern German town of Halle.

Before the explosion in Pöttering’s office became known, the EU Commission’s chief spokesman had said the existing security system was sufficient. “Whatever security arrangements have been taken, they are necessary and they are sufficient,” Reijo Kemppinen said at a press briefing. “At the moment we are confident that everything that needs to be done has been done.”

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