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Europe

US Officials Deem Suspicious Letters to Embassies Harmless

More than a dozen US diplomatic missions across Europe have received mail containing a white powder in recent days, adding European addresses to the global list of recipients of suspicious letters.

An overflowing pile of mail

Nearly all of the letters have been proven non-toxic

The US State Department said 16 embassies have received the powder as of Thursday, Dec. 18, according to deputy department spokesman Robert Wood. He told reporters Wednesday that tests of the letters' contents have all returned negative for dangerous substances.

"However, we have not received results from all affected embassies," he added, saying the State Department was still awaiting the results of a test on powder mailed to The Hague in The Netherlands.

The envelopes, postmarked from the state of Texas, were examined for a variety of hazardous substances.

Embassies across Europe affected

Embassies in Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland have all received the powder, according to Wood.

Facade of US embassy in Berlin

The new US embassy in Berlin received one of the letters

The mailings have had minimal impact on the operations of the embassies, Wood said. The facility in Bucharest was temporarily closed and reopened on Tuesday, and the embassy in Rome was closed on Wednesday, he said.

Spanish security services cordoned off the US embassy in central Madrid on Wednesday after one of the suspicious envelopes sparked what turned out to be a false security alert, Spanish police said. Though Wood did not say what the substance was, the Spanish Interior Ministry later said the powder mailed to the embassy in Madrid was flour.

A lengthening list of recipients

The embassies are only the latest recipients of the hoax packages.

FBI spokesman Rich Kolko said Tuesday also reported that more than 40 state governors in the United States have received mail containing the suspicious powder since Dec. 8. Authorities have also said that suspicious packages have been sent to National Guard bureaus and reserve facilities in 36 states.

An internal Dec. 16 report from the Department of Homeland Security said the 51 packages included anti-war compact discs, and one package to Utah's National Guard headquarters also had a suspicious, though non-toxic powder.

The US government stepped up inspections of post following the spate of mailed anthrax attacks in the United States in 2001 that killed five people. The suspect in the case, Bruce Ivins, took his own life in August just before the federal authorities were about to formally charge him.

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