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Package bombs explode at Swiss, Chilean embassies in Rome, injuring two

By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 10:06 PM

ROME - An Italian anarchist group asserted responsibility for package bombs that exploded Thursday at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome, injuring two office workers, prompting a citywide inspection of diplomatic missions and raising the level of anxiety across a continent that has suffered a spike in violence heading into the holidays.

A large envelope exploded at noon local time at the Swiss Embassy, seriously wounding the 53-year-old Swiss national who opened it, according to Agostino Vitolo, a spokesman for the Carabinieri paramilitary police in Rome. Vitolo said the victim sustained serious injuries and underwent surgery at a local hospital.

Another package bomb exploded at the Chilean Embassy at 2:27 p.m. local time, injuring the hands and face of Cesar Mella, the administrative official who opened it, according to Sonia Di Clemente, a spokeswoman for Rome's police department. Chilean officials said Mella had part of his hand blown off and suffered minor injuries to his eyes and abdomen.

"We don't know where the bomb came from or the reasons why it was sent," Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said in Santiago, Chile.

Police released a note written in Italian that they said had been stuck to the victim's clothes by the Informal Anarchist Federation, or FAI, an Italian insurrectionary organization. The note read, "We have decided to make our voice heard with words and with facts, we will destroy the system of dominance, long live the FAI, long live Anarchy."

A suspicious package reported by the Ukrainian Embassy turned out to be a false alarm, according to the police.

Immediately after the attacks, police investigators and Italian Foreign Ministry officials began checking all the embassies and consulates in Rome for suspicious packages. The U.S. Embassy did not require any additional or expanded measures "because we already had appropriate security measures in place," said Paula Thiede, a spokeswoman for the mission.

Rome has been on edge since violent protesters infiltrated a large rally against the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last week and clashed with authorities on the capital's streets, torched cars, damaged banks in the city center and beat a police officer.

Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, characterized the city's embassies Thursday as under siege. "It's a wave of terrorism against embassies, something much more worrisome than a single attack," Alemanno said outside the Swiss Embassy.

"We are following the anarchist trail," Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told reporters Thursday evening.

Italy has a record of anarchist activity, and Roman prosecutors have long-running investigations in place targeting anarchist elements inside the country. The parcel that exploded at the Chilean Embassy bore an Italian return address, according to the Italian news service ANSA.

The timing of the explosions - shortly before the holiday season and close upon a recent spate of violence in Italy and throughout the continent - seemed likely to exacerbate Europeans' nervousness.

Last month, two Greeks who were said to be anarchists were arrested in connection with the attempted bombing of 12 embassies and two foreign leaders in Athens. On Dec. 11, a Swede of Iraqi origin blew himself upand injured two others in Stockholm. Last week, about 100 police and protesters suffered injuries in the most violent Italian protests in decades. Earlier this week, British counterterrorism police arrested 12 men in the largest sweep of its kind in nearly two years, and British officials said the raids were necessary to keep the public safe from an alleged plot. And again in Rome, police discovered a defective explosive device under a subway seat.

There is no clear link between any of the events, and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini cautioned at a news conference against jumping to any conclusions about who might be responsible for the bombings, which he called "a grave threat to the diplomatic headquarters." He added that the ministry had alerted Italian embassies abroad to raise their guard.

In Washington, an official with the Department of Homeland Security who was tasked with giving the U.S. government's response said, "We are working very closely with the Italian government to monitor these developments, just as we continue to work with our international partners to share threat information and to coordinate closely our counterterrorism and security activities."

U.S. intelligence officials had said earlier Thursday that they were only beginning to assemble information on the bombings and cautioned against assuming any connection to al-Qaeda.

An FBI official in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to comment candidly, said that the attempts "seemed a little different" from what the agency would expect from al-Qaeda, both in terms of the simplicity of the devices and the chosen targets.

Those chosen targets immediately prompted the Italian media to speculate that the bombings were in retaliation for the arrest of anarchists in Switzerland. Chile is also mentioned in the writings of Conspiracy of Cells of Fire, the anarchist organization to which the two men arrested in Greece are suspected of belonging.

Staff writers Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung in Washington and special correspondent Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.

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