Parcel bombs sent to the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome on Thursday were similar to those sent by Italian anarchists in the Christmas season of 2003, targeting then Prime Minister Romano Prodi and European institutions in Brussels, according to the Italian news agency Ansa.
The embassy bombings wounded two people, one seriously enough that he may lose and eye and his hands, and came days after a suspect package found on an empty train in Rome's metro system.
Bomb threats were also called in to Rome's City Hall and several other government offices, the mayor's office said, though no bombs had been found in either location.
Police were conducting checks at all embassies in the capital after Thursday's explosions, which wounded the two people who opened the packages, one of them a 53-year-old Swiss national, according to Italian media.The bombings come after violent anti-government protests rocked Rome over the past week, and ongoing security alerts across Europe this month.
Tension has been running high in Rome's streets ever since student protests against university reform erupted into violent clashes with the police on Dec. 14, reports Alessandro Speciale for GlobalPost. The riots left 90 people injured, while cars were set on fire and shop windows smashed in the central Via del Corso.
The Italian government put the blame on so called "black blocks," small groups of well-organized youths who infiltrate otherwise peaceful protest marches and systematically try to attack police. Twenty-three students were arrested in the riots, though most of them were released just after one day, despite objections from Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno.
To avert further violence, a senior senator from the People of Freedom party of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who recently narrowly survived a key confidence vote in parliament, went so far as to call for “preventive arrests” of student leaders.
In following days, the atmosphere worsened. On Wednesday, as parliament got closer to a final vote on university reform (approved Thursday), the streets of Rome's center were eerily empty of Christmas shoppers. Most main roads were closed to ward off new student protests.
In November, police discovered 14 parcel bombs sent from Greece to various embassies in Athens. Other parcel bombs were addressed to European targets including the leaders of Germany and Italy.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Thursday released a statement of solidarity with "the Swiss ambassador and with all the staff of the Embassy. They were victim of a violent act that we firmly condemn."
While the suspect package found in Rome's metro system that triggered a bomb alert Tuesday contained cement and not gunpowder, as stated earlier by officials, the head of the Carabinieri police force in Rome, said that it was made by "an expert" and could have been a kind of warning. The Corriere della Sera daily said in an editorial that the suspect package "could have been aimed at criminalizing those who protest."