Two men charged with terrorism in Greek mail bomb plot

Fourteen explosive parcels have been found so far as the two suspects, one of them a chemistry student, go before a judge.

ATHENS // A Greek judge charged two men with terrorism Thursday as police announced that a 14th parcel bomb had been dealt with after delivery at the French embassy in Athens.

A court official said that Panayotis Argyrou, 22, a chemistry student, and Gerassimos Tskalos, 24, had refused to speak when brought before the judge, saying they did not recognise the procedure, a court source said.

They were charged with committing acts of terrorism, belonging to a criminal organisation, possession and use of bombs and explosives, as well as lesser offences including refusing to give their identities and fingerprints.

Both were remanded in custody at Korydallos prison west of Athens.

The pair were arrested Monday as a wave of parcel bombs was launched, addressed to embassies in the Greek capital and European leaders and institutions.

The court was told Argyrou and Tskalos were in possession of two packages, addressed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They had just mailed one to the Dutch embassy in Athens.

The parcel for Sarkozy was ostensibly sent from the office of Greek Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos and contained an ecclesiastical book with a red cover bearing a gold cross, which had been hollowed out and an explosive mixture inserted.

Argyrou was wanted by police as a suspected member of the radical far-left Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, hitherto known for arson and bomb attacks on government buildings and the offices and homes of Greek politicians.

Their appearance came as Greek police said they had intercepted and detonated a package delivered to the French embassy Thursday after staff became suspicious.

The device was ostensibly sent from the Orthodox archbishopric of Athens, but explosives had been hidden inside a hollowed-out copy of the works of 19th century satirical poet George Souris, police said.

"The French embassy in Athens received a package whose delivery arrangements appeared suspicious," French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in Paris.

"Our embassy contacted the competent Greek authorities, who immediately launched an inquiry and have just informed us that they went ahead with the destruction of the parcel," he told AFP.

Greek police said the embassy had refused the parcel and sent it back to the delivery company in the southern Athens suburb of Kallithea.

Authorities bolstered security arrangements at embassies in the wake of the attacks and halted all foreign mail and parcel deliveries for two days to enable a thorough re-examination of pending dispatches.

Police have appealed for information leading to the capture of five men, aged between 21 and 30.

The parcel bombs included one addressed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that reached her office in Berlin, and another meant for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that was found aboard a courier plane that had been diverted to Bologna.

The alert was raised when a package addressed to the Mexican embassy exploded inside a courier company on Monday, burning an employee's hand. Police then found two more packages, including the one intended for the Dutch embassy.

On Tuesday, five other parcels surfaced.

One was destroyed inside the Bulgarian embassy, but two more burst into flames at the Swiss and Russian embassies when handled by staff. Nobody was injured.

Two more parcels mailed to the German and Chilean embassies were also intercepted and destroyed by police.

Two intercepted at Athens international airport were addressed to the European police agency Europol in the Netherlands and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

European bomb detection experts are to meet Friday to examine whether Europe needs to step up air cargo security measures following the Greek parcel bombs and others sent to the United States from Yemen last week.

Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said Wednesday that the plot had "nothing to do with any kind of organised international terrorism."

The attacks come in the run-up to local elections in Greece and in a climate of social tension against draconian austerity cuts imposed by the government to turn around the economy following an unprecedented debt crisis.