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Mail bombs: Anarchist link probed

Prodi surrounded by police after he opened the letter bomb and it caught fire at his home in Bologna.
Prodi surrounded by police after he opened the letter bomb and it caught fire at his home in Bologna.

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) -- Investigators say four letter bombs delivered in four days to top European Union officials and EU bodies involved in crime-fighting came from Bologna in Italy.

Police were investigating links Tuesday between the letter bombs and Italian anarchists. EU headquarters said it had tightened some security measures but was taking the threats in its stride.

An explosive parcel was sent to EU Commission President Romano Prodi on Saturday and was followed two days later by one to European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet in Frankfurt.

A third package was intercepted at the EU police agency, Europol, in The Hague on Monday and a fourth was sent on Tuesday to another EU institution called Eurojust. It did not explode.

German public prosecutors investigating the Frankfurt package said they were looking into links to an Italian anarchist group.

An Italian judicial source from Bologna said the Eurojust letter bomb also came from the northern Italian city.

The packages were posted at a time of heightened security fears around the world. Earlier this month, U.S. officials cited the increased threat over the holiday period of an assault similar to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The letter bombs also coincided with alerts on Tuesday at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and a German military hospital.

German police said they had closed off a military hospital in Hamburg after indications Islamic militants planned a car bomb attack there.

In Amsterdam, hundreds of airline passengers were evacuated from two departure halls at Schiphol airport, one of Europe's biggest travel hubs, after a bomb squad was called in to check an abandoned suitcase. It turned out not to contain explosives.

Anti-Europe group

The letter bomb sent to Prodi exploded in his hands but he was unhurt. The letter to Trichet was intercepted and the bank's executive board held its weekly meeting on Tuesday. The ECB would not comment on any extra security steps.

The head of Europol, Juergen Storbeck, was the target of the third letter bomb.

Europol, which assists EU states in their fight against organized crime, and Eurojust are based in The Hague.

Eurojust is made up of prosecutors and judges who help authorities in member states investigate and prosecute serious cross-border crime.

Italian newspaper la Repubblica said Italian police had a list of 250 names of anarchists from across Europe, but no proof of who sent the letters.

Those anarchists are believed to fall under an umbrella group called "Euroopposizione," founded earlier this year. Its manifesto says it is against "Europe's masters, their war, their peace, their repression, their control," la Repubblica reported.

But Professor Paul Wilkinson of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews said letter bombs were favored by small-scale groups or individuals with no sophisticated networks.

"It may not be political at all, it may be an individual with some grievance, a group with some grievance, or a criminal group," he said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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