Greece Parcel Bombs Tied To Anarchists

A wave of letter bombs were sent by suspected leftist militants in response to severe austerity measures imposed by Greece's government.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A spate of mail bombs, sent from Greece to targets around Europe,�appear to be the work of homegrown anarchists. One of the parcels addressed to German leader Angela Merkel got as far as the office of the chancellor. Now Greece has temporarily suspended the shipment of letters and packages headed out of the country. And while the bombs weren't deadly, they do highlight the difficulty of keeping explosives out of the international mail delivery system. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is in Athens.

And, Sylvia, these parcel bombs may not, as I've just said, been deadly, but together with the� bombs originating in Yemen they have disrupted the international mail cargo system. So, you know, what to do?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Well, in the meantime, yesterday, Greece, as you said, imposed a 48 hour stop on all outgoing airmail packages and screened thousands of boxes. And now European governments are very concerned. Officials in Greece and Germany say that they support a Europe-wide tightening of package screening procedures. And this will be on the agenda of an EU meeting of air security experts in Brussels on Friday.

MONTAGNE: Greek police have arrested two young anarchists. Who are they and what do they want?�

POGGIOLI: Well, by definition, anarchists want to cause chaos and disrupt all government activity. And usually they focus on domestic targets. This time, however, their actions have spilled overseas. And the two young men, who are in their 20s, were found in possession of guns, bulletproof vests and parcel bombs addressed to the Mexican embassy and to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

They're said to be members of a small left wing group called Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire, which emerged in 2008 and has been involved in several attacks on government and business targets. Police are also searching for five more men, aged 21 to 30.

Now, as for the purpose of this campaign, domestic terrorism experts say it's mainly symbolic and not aimed at harming anyone since police say none of the devices examined so far contained lethal amounts of explosives. But the international impact has been considerable.

MONTAGE: So, Sylvia, Greece has had a violent anarchist movement for decades.

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, the origins are in the violent civil war of the 1940s and in reaction to the oppressive military Junta of the 1970s. Society was polarized. And in recent years Greece has become accustomed to chronic outbursts of violence by young people rioting against perceived police brutality in capitalist society.

And according to experts, the anarchist movement in Greece is very fragmented. Now, despite the material destruction they cause, most Greek anarchist groups do not espouse deadly violence, except for one group called the Sect of Revolutionaries, suspected of killing a journalist and a police officer in the last two years.

Now, the Greek paradox is that as long as this anarchist turmoil does not cause fatalities, it enjoys a certain amount of tolerance within society.

MONTAGNE: But, Sylvia, why now? Why these bombs now?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, the country's going through this miserable economic crisis. The government's austerity package, which is aimed at lowering the country's huge debt, is extremely unpopular. There are daily protest demonstrations, have been going on for months. Prices are soaring. Unemployment is rising, especially among the young where there's one out of three is unemployed. And there's growing indignation over widespread political corruption. So the climate is ripe for very angry, antigovernment and antiestablishment demonstrations.

But the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou has vowed to crackdown against what he called irresponsible and mindless acts of those who want to undermine the efforts of Greek people trying to put the country and its economy back on track.

MONTAGNE: Sylvia, thank you very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli speaking to us from Athens.

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Greece's Domestic Terror Spills Beyond Its Borders

Policemen escort two men suspected of sending 14 parcel bombs. i i

hide captionPolice in Athens escort two men suspected of sending mail bombs. The men were arrested after bombs addressed to embassies in the Greek capital were intercepted. Greece ordered a 48-hour suspension of overseas deliveries of mail and packages.

STR/AFP/Getty Images
Policemen escort two men suspected of sending 14 parcel bombs.

Police in Athens escort two men suspected of sending mail bombs. The men were arrested after bombs addressed to embassies in the Greek capital were intercepted. Greece ordered a 48-hour suspension of overseas deliveries of mail and packages.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Greece halted overseas shipments and screened outgoing mail and packages Wednesday following the discovery of 14 parcel bombs that were mailed to foreign governments and embassies.

Two Greek men in their 20s have been arrested, and authorities say all evidence suggests this is a case of domestic terrorism and is not linked to the parcel bombs sent to the U.S. from Yemen.

There has been only one casualty since Monday, when a courier employee was slightly injured after a bomb exploded in her hands.

But the explosive parcels have triggered international concern and prompted Greece's 48-hour ban on all package deliveries abroad.

Symbolic Action

Most of the mail bombs were sent to targets in Greece, but two were sent to the leaders of Germany and Italy. Both were intercepted.

Investigators say none of the devices examined so far contained lethal amounts of explosives, unlike those used by Yemeni militants. Authorities say the mail bombs are not part of an international terrorist action, but purely domestic.

Brady Kiesling, a former U.S. diplomat who studies Greek political violence, says the mail bombs are part of a symbolic action, not aimed at causing harm.

"The anarchists are very anti-state in any form," he says. "Embarrassing the government of Greece is something they're happy to do. It's very much a response to acts of police and government repression — quote unquote — of anarchists."

'Uniquely Greek'

Greece has been living for six months under extremely tough austerity measures imposed by the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou to deal with the country's huge debt. Hardly a day goes by without a street protest.

Achilles Peklaris, political correspondent for the alternative weekly The Athens Voice, says Greece is accustomed to domestic violence by the young.

"Some of them throw stones," he says. "Some of them throw Molotov bombs. Some of them go squatting [in] buildings. Some of them make package bombs. It is something — I would call it uniquely Greek."

The roots of Greek anarchism go back to the civil war in the 1940s and reaction to the military junta in the 1970s, which sowed the seeds of a polarized society. In recent years, Greece has been rocked by youth riots against perceived police brutality.

And currently, youth unemployment is running at over 30 percent.

Winning Popular Opinion

Peklaris says a traditional diffidence toward the central state has increased with the revelation of widespread political corruption.

"This is the fuel of terrorism in Greece, that people do not trust the Greek state — they hate the police," he says. "Whoever turns against them is going to be liked by a big part of public opinion."

Observers say a traditional benevolence shown by Greek society toward violent protests against the state has been deepened by the economic and social crisis.

This will make it even harder for authorities to crack down against the anarchist groups believed to be behind the mail bombs. But the government has vowed it will be merciless.

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