Story by: Monika Pronczuk
When a mailroom worker at an Amsterdam office building noticed an unusual hissing sound coming from one of the packages being sorted Wednesday morning, he tossed it away. Moments after the parcel left his hands, it exploded.
Less than an hour later, in Kerkrade, a Dutch town near the German border, a second package mailed to a local business blew up. Nobody was wounded in either case and police officials compared the size of Wednesday’s blasts to a small fireworks explosion, saying that the bombs would have caused nonfatal injuries had anyone been holding them.
But the attacks were just the latest in a spate of parcel bombs directed at businesses across the Netherlands that have set the authorities on edge — and they were the first to actually detonate.
The police believe that the latest attacks were most likely linked because the mail bombs were accompanied by letters demanding money in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin to prevent future attacks.
“It’s fair to say that all of these are connected because the same demand was made,” said Lex van Liebergen, an Amsterdam police spokeswoman. “But we still don’t know who sent it. We are still investigating.”
She would not say how much money the bomber had demanded or how the money was to be delivered.
The earlier letter bombs targeted a range of businesses, including a hotel, a gas station, a garage, a real estate agent and a bill collection service.
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On Wednesday, the first package exploded at about 8 a.m. in a mail sorting facility at ABN Amro, a large Dutch bank, according to Geert van der Varst, a spokesman for the company.
“The colleague who was sorting the mail heard a hissing sound, and threw the package away,” Mr. van der Varst said.
The second bomb exploded in the mailroom of an unidentified business in Kerkrade, about 140 miles away.
Mail bombs have been used as a means of extortion in the Netherlands before. In 2015, after bombs were mailed to several Jumbo supermarkets, a 58-year-old man was arrested and later sentenced to eight years in prison after investigators tied him to the attacks using DNA evidence.
As the investigation into the current wave of package bombs continued, employees in mailrooms around the country were taking precautions. A third suspicious package arrived at an ABN Amro branch in the southern town of Maastricht on Wednesday, with Mr. van der Varst, the bank’s spokesman, saying that the employee who handled the parcel thought it was “weird looking.” It was put off to the side and the police were called.
In that case, it turned out to be a false alarm — the package contained a computer mouse.