Australian police investigate suspicious packages sent to embassies in Melbourne and Canberra

  • Reports indicate embassies of US, UK, New Zealand, India, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Germany, Greece, Spain, Seychelles, Switzerland, Croatia and Egypt affected
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 9:20pm

Several foreign diplomatic missions were evacuated in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Canberra on Wednesday after they received packages containing suspicious substances.

Police, fire crews and ambulances were seen at a number of foreign consulates in Melbourne, including those of India, Germany, Italy, Spain and South Korea. Officials at the US and Swiss missions in the city said they had also received packages.

Domestic media reported that some staff said the packages contained asbestos, a building material notorious for causing cancers and other health problems.

There were no reports of anyone being injured at the targeted missions in both cities and no details of any possible motive. Some of the targeted sites were open later on Wednesday afternoon.

“The packages are being examined by attending emergency services,” the Australian Federal Police said in a short statement without providing further details. “The circumstances surrounding the incidents are being investigated.”

Police did not identify any of the embassies or consulates involved, although the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported suspicious packages were also found at the Melbourne diplomatic offices of Pakistan and possibly those of Greece, France and Hong Kong. It said the Israeli embassy in Canberra also received a suspicious package.

It was not immediately clear which other countries’ diplomatic missions in Canberra were affected, if any.

Officials at the US and British consulates in Melbourne separately confirmed suspicious packages had been received.

“We handled the package according to our standard procedures and in close coordination with local authorities … who are investigating the incident,” a spokesman for the US consulate said.

A New Zealand official told the ABC that the consulate received an envelope with small plastic bags that appeared to contain concrete and asbestos, with “asbestos” written on one of the bags.

The Age newspaper reported that one firefighter was seen outside the South Korean consulate carrying a large plastic bag with the word “asbestos” written on it.

Two fire trucks, a hazardous materials vehicle and police cars were seen at India’s consulate in Melbourne, where staff members had been evacuated, some wearing protective masks.

Staff were later allowed to re-enter the building, which was deemed safe by Vic Emergency, the collective body of emergency agencies in Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital.

The incidents come after Sydney’s Argentinian consulate was partially evacuated on Monday after reports of a suspicious substance. The powder, contained in clear plastic bags within an envelope, was subsequently deemed not dangerous.

Additional reporting by Associated Press