Parcel bombs in Athens appear to be Greek anarchists' calling cards

Security experts say that parcel bombings sent to embassies across Athens on Monday and Tuesday have all the hallmarks of anarchist groups looking to make a 'symbolic gesture.'

Petros Giannakouris/AP
A police officer prepares for a controlled explosion of a suspect package in Athens, Greece, Monday.

A two-day barrage of parcel bombings targeting embassies in Athens bears the hallmarks of anarchist groups in Greece that may have used the attacks to draw international support for their revolutionary cause.

Police have declined to say officially whom they suspect in the attacks, other than it is likely a local anarchist group unconnected to mail bombs from Yemen attributed to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. One of the suspects taken into custody Monday has been identified as a member of the Conspiracy of the Cells (or nuclei) of Fire, referred to as SPF, which is among a number of anarchist groups that have surfaced in the past several years.

“SPF has a track record of international actions,” says Brady Kiesling, a former American diplomat and expert on Greek terrorism. “It is definitely an anarchist group looking for a symbolic gesture.”

Security experts say they have recently noticed an uptick in Internet chatter among anarchist groups looking to make a statement about the economic crisis in Greece and Europe, and to strike out against countries where anarchists are currently imprisoned. They say that could explain the selection of embassies that were targeted since Monday.

"These letter bombs were not strong enough to kill anyone,” says Mary Bossis, a terrorism expert at the University of Piraeus. “But they were strong enough to send a message around the world."

There were no injuries in the explosions at the Swiss and Russian embassies on Tuesday, and police were able to intercept and detonate parcel bombs addressed to the Bulgarian, Chilean, and German embassies.

Today's bombs followed botched attempts to send explosive parcels to the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Dutch, Belgian, and Mexican embassies Monday. A suspicious package sent Tuesday to the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked with the Greek economic ministry's return address may also be connected.

On Monday, the Greek police apprehended two men, ages 22 and 24 at a courier center in the Athens neighborhood of Pangrati. They were reportedly armed with pistols and bulletproof vests and allegedly caught with explosive parcels. A courier company employee became suspicious of the men because of their wigs and baseball caps.

The younger of the two suspects has been identified as the member of SPF, one of the groups that has risen to prominence in the last few years, especialy since Dec. 6, 2008 when the shooting death of a 15-year-old boy by police set off nationwide youth riots.

Embassies in Greece have been on full alert following the bombings that began Monday. The German and Bulgarian embassies notified the police of suspicious packages and they were disposed of in controlled detonations. A courier handed over another package addressed to the Chilean embassy.

Greeks have become somewhat accustomed to anarchists setting off bombs from time to time, typically without injury. But this recent increase, coupled with several recent fatalities, will do little to generate much sympathy for their cause, say security experts. An Afghan boy and his mother were killed in March when he accidentally set off a bomb while rummaging through a dumpster. On June 24, a booby-trapped parcel addressed to minister Michalis Chrisochoides killed top aide George Vassilakis.

"Greeks have an understanding with their terrorists,” Mr. Kiesling says. “You don't hurt anybody and we don't look for you too hard."

The mistakes made by the two men caught on Monday practically delivered them to the police, Kiesling says.

“The members of these groups are young amateurs,” adds Ms. Bossis. “But they are inventive amateurs and dangerous.”

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