7:56am

Thu December 23, 2010
Europe

Package Explodes At Swiss Embassy In Rome

Bombs hidden in packages exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome on Thursday, wounding two people.

The package at the Swiss Embassy went off as soon as it was opened by a staff member, who was hospitalized with injuries to both hands. Hours later, an employee at Chile's embassy was wounded by an exploding parcel.

A suspicious package found later at the Ukrainian Embassy turned out to be a false alarm, according to Rome police Chief Francesco Tagliente, who spoke to reporters at the Chilean Embassy. Italian police were checking all embassies in Rome.

"It's a wave of terrorism against embassies, something much more worrisome than a single attack," Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, said. He said investigators were following up on what he called international leads but gave no further details.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the incidents, which are similar to events last month in Greece in which anarchists are suspected of sending booby-trapped parcels to the offices of several embassies in Athens as well as to the offices of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. A group called Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire claimed responsibility.

Italian investigators are pursuing the "trail of anarchists-insurrectionists,'' Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, whose ministry includes anti-terrorist police, told reporters. "Various elements lead us to think that this is the correct path.''

"These are very violent groups that are also present in Spain and Greece and are very well connected,'' the minister said.

Late Thursday night, the Italian news agency ANSA reported that a claim by anarchists was found in a small box near one of the wounded employees and was being examined by anti-terrorism police squad.

Anti-terrorism police at Rome police headquarters refused to comment on the claim, which ANSA said was made by a group called the Informal Anarchist Federation, or FAI.

"Long live FAI, long live anarchy,'' the claim reportedly said.

In Athens, Greek law enforcement officials said that Greek anti-terrorism police were contacted in the evening by Italian colleagues but that no link with the Greek parcel bombs was immediately apparent.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini condemned what he called a "deplorable act of violence" on Thursday and offered Italy's solidarity with embassy staff and victims.

The explosions in Rome also come amid growing concerns in Europe over possible holiday season attacks, after a recent suicide bombing in Stockholm and raids this week in Britain that netted a dozen suspects allegedly plotting terrorist attacks.

On Tuesday, there was a bomb scare in Rome's subway after authorities discovered a suspicious package with wires and powder under a subway seat. The device was fake, with police determining there was no trigger mechanism and that the powder was inert, cement-like material.

Italy has been rocked of late by large-scale student protests over cuts to public education funding. Some government officials have raised tensions by evoking the specter of domestic terrorism that plagued the country in the 1970s.

Switzerland's Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on Thursday's explosion.

The Swiss ambassador to Italy planned to make a statement later in the day. At the scene, firefighters and carabinieri massed inside the grounds of the embassy while journalists were kept outside the main gate.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reported from Rome for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.