Blackmailer sends 25 bombs to Barclays

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The Independent Online

A blackmailer is carrying out a parcel bomb campaign against Barclays Bank in an attempt to extort up to a million pounds, police revealed yesterday.

Scotland Yard last night warned the public to be on their guard after one woman employee at Barclays' Hampstead branch, in north London, suffered minor hand burns while opening a mailed package. Up to 25 devices are understood to have been posted or delivered by hand during the past 16 months. Three of the home-made bombs are reported to have gone off.

The complex devices, which experts say could have taken six days to make, contained shotgun cartridges or rifle bullets and nails. They were enclosed in packages resembling books or videos, with a spring mechanism designed to set off the explosive material. The bomber has so far confined his targets to London.

Scotland Yard's statement said: "There is an ongoing Metropolitan Police Service investigation into extortion threats made to several major financial organisations. The investigation, which is being carried out by the anti- terrorist branch, is focusing on a small number of home-made devices sent by mail and delivered by hand during the past 16 months to addresses in the London area. Members of the public should remain alert and report anything suspicious to police."

Despite the involvement of the anti-terrorist squad, the police do not believe "conventional" terrorists are behind the threats. It is believed from a psychological evaluation of the bomber's messages and communications that he may be either a former employee holding a severe grudge or a former customers seeking revenge.

Police were issuing no further details last night. However, it is understood that while the police had been aware of the threats for some time, the bombing campaign was only made public after the extortionist wrote to a national newspaper accusing the police of "covering up" his activities and warning of further, more deadly, devices.

Scotland Yard had tried to maintain a press blackout on the matter, but after a briefing with two national newspapers yesterday, both titles decided to publish.

The first of the parcel bombs were sent in December 1994. The devices were followed by a blackmail demand that special cashpoint machine card accounts with special entry codes be set up to allow him to draw, undetected, from the accounts.

The first bombs were wrapped in Christmas paper. The bomber calls himself "Mardi Gra" and the address labels on some of the devices have borne the slogan "Welcome to the Mardi Gra Experience".

The Daily Mail received a letter last week claiming that Mardi Gra was the "codename of a small group of Barclays Bank victims who are in the process of reversing the tide of fortune in their favour ... We are amazed that a bank or company appears to be able not to care who gets injured and get the police to keep quiet about it."

Police and bank security staff have been working together to try to trap the blackmailer and have attempted to communicate with him through a series of newspaper advertisements.

A spokeswoman for the bank said last night: "Barclays has been working closely with the police on this matter and taking their advice throughout.

"The safety of our customers and staff is of paramount importance and we are taking the matter extremely seriously.

"We shall therefore continue to work with the police in whatever way we can."