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Europe

Letter Bombs Target EU Officials

A string of letter bombs sent to European leaders and institutions has security forces on their toes. After one exploded in Romano Prodi’s hands, two more were discovered at Europol and the European Central Bank.

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Careful handling required for packages headed to Brussels.

As post offices and mail carriers sort through and deliver the usual holiday mail, security forces in Europe are on alert for suspicious letters and packages addressed to high-ranking officials and European institutions. A series of letter bombs in the last few days has them wondering if there is a new terror plot directed against the European Union.

In the two most recent incidents security officials managed to intercept the letter bombs before they reached their intended targets, the European police force, Europol, and European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet. The foiled attacks come straight on the heels of a similar parcel bomb sent to the home of European Commission President Romano Prodi, who escaped injury after it exploded in his hands on Saturday.

Postmarked Bologna

On Monday, police in Germany intercepted a suspicious letter addressed directly to Trichet. The letter was discovered in the mailroom of the Frankfurt-based ECB and handed over to police, who said it had been postmarked from Prodi’s hometown of Bologna. Police said the letter to Trichet wasn’t handled by the ECB president himself.

Federal investigators told reporters on Tuesday that the letter had contained a "dark powder," an inflammable substance, "probably weed killer," but they refrained from giving further details about the exact nature of the bomb.

Also on Monday, police and bomb squads in the Netherlands managed to defuse a letter bomb sent to the EU’s police agency, Europol. A spokesman for the organization said the letter was addressed to Europol director Jürgen Storbeck but had been intercepted before actually reaching him.

A common sender?

Although a spokeswoman for the Dutch public prosecutor’s office conceded that the three letter bombs may be related, police investigators are remaining tight-lipped. They say there is currently nothing to suggest that the bombs are the work of terrorist organizations or Islamic extremists.

Italian police suspect that the bomb sent to Prodi on Saturday could be traced back to a previously unknown anarchist group that claimed responsibility for two earlier bombs found in garbage bins outside Prodi’s home just before Christmas. So far, though, the group, which has referred to Prodi as a representative of the "new European order," has admitted no responsibility for the latest bomb.

EU headquarters in Brussels has responded to the series of letter bombs by clamping down on security out of fear that more possible letter bombs could arrive at the end of the year.

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