Suspicious packages sent to consulates

Forensic officers remove items from the Italian consulate in Melbourne. The packages were not believed to be dangerous.
Forensic officers remove items from the Italian consulate in Melbourne. The packages were not believed to be dangerous.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

More than a dozen foreign missions in major Australian cities targeted within a few hours

MELBOURNE • Suspicious packages were sent to more than a dozen foreign embassies and consulates in major Australian cities yesterday in a seemingly orchestrated but scattershot campaign.

Emergency services raced to a string of diplomatic facilities which had received packages containing suspected hazardous material, all within the space of a few hours.

There was no obvious pattern to countries targeted, with consulates of the United States, China, Italy, India, Japan and New Zealand suffering scares.

The packages were not believed to be dangerous, but police, fire crews and forensic teams were urged to use breathing apparatus as they documented and double-or triple-bagged the materials for further testing.

Victoria state police said there was no threat to the public: "At this time, we believe the matter is targeted and not impacting the general community."

Most of the sites - also including locations near the Spanish, Swiss, Egyptian and Pakistani consulates - were evacuated as a precaution but have since been declared safe.

A British High Commission spokesman said its consulate-general in Melbourne had been targeted, but "all our staff are safe and accounted for".

The US consulate in the city said it had also received a "suspicious" package, which a spokesman said was handled in coordination with police and the fire service.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs said it had sent a note to all diplomatic missions in the capital on Tuesday, "alerting them to the possibility of suspicious packages being delivered by mail".

That warning was triggered after three earlier incidents at offices in Sydney and Canberra.

Local media on Monday reported that the Argentine consulate in Sydney had received a package containing white powder. It did not test positive for toxins.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2019, with the headline 'Suspicious packages sent to consulates'. Print Edition | Subscribe