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Embassy Parcel Bombs in Rome Ratchet up Security Concerns

December 23, 2010 at 3:13 PM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: Concerns about terror over the holidays ratcheted up a notch today with mail bombings in Rome. The targets were a pair of embassies in the Italian capital.

At least two people were wounded by today’s bombs, hidden inside parcels delivered to the Swiss and Chilean embassies. The Italian news agency ANSA reported a note was found at one site saying “Long live anarchy.”

Just last month, 14 parcel bombs were sent to foreign embassies in Athens, Greece. A Greek anarchist group claimed responsibility and urged like-minded militants elsewhere to follow suit. Though today’s incidents in Rome weren’t thought to be al-Qaida-inspired, they added to jitters worldwide about possible acts of terror over the holidays.

Last Christmas, a Nigerian man tried to set off a bomb in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines plane flying in to Detroit.

JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. deputy national security adviser: Good morning, everyone.

MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told reporters the nation’s security has improved significantly in the year since.

JOHN BRENNAN: We have taken steps to ensure that that type of problem doesn’t happen again. So, one of the things that President Obama has insisted that we do on each of these incidents is to take a look back and to see where the system worked well, where it fell down, what changes we could make, either in information technology or in business processes.

And so I’m confident that those deficiencies we identified as a result of previous reviews are being addressed, and that we are in a much better position today than we were last year at this time.

MARGARET WARNER: To buttress that, the White House released a list of security enhancements made in the past year.

They include improved internal procedures for information-sharing, analysis and terror watch lists. Also cited were the full-body scanners and aggressive searches at U.S. airports that have generated controversy, as well as intensified, though not total, screening of cargo.

Still, there have been fears, especially in Europe, that a new attack might be imminent. This month, Iraqi officials warned that al-Qaida elements were plotting attacks in major European cities. On December 11, a suicide bomber set off an explosion during Saturday night Christmas shopping in downtown Stockholm, killing himself and wounding two others.

And, on Monday, British police arrested a dozen men suspected of planning a large-scale attack on targets there. U.S. officials are also on alert for homegrown threats, especially after a naturalized citizen born in Pakistan tried to set off a car bomb in New York’s Times Square last May.

Brennan said Wednesday authorities are not aware of any particular plot at the moment.

JOHN BRENNAN: As far as something specific and credible, we don’t see that. There is a constant stream of reporting throughout the course of the year about al-Qaida’s plans. So, sometimes, we have that strategic warning. We’re not going to wait for a tactical warning. We’re going to be poised every day.

MARGARET WARNER: In the meantime, police in Rome warned more parcel bombs could still be working their way through the Italian mail service — all this at a time when thousands of people are pouring into the city for Christmas observances.