Neo-Nazis main suspects in spate of letter-bombs

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The Independent Online
AUSTRIAN police said yesterday that they were closing in on those responsible for sending a spate of letter-bombs over the past few days, but warned that more 'unpleasant surprises' could be in the post.

Michael Sika, head of public security, said that a series of house searches were under way and the authorities are convinced the people they are seeking are Austrian nationals. His statement lent further credence to those who believe the letter-bombs - all 10 of which have been targeted against people sympathetic to foreigners - were sent by Austrian neo-Nazis rather than Serbian terrorists angered by Vienna's policies on accepting Croatian and Bosnian refugees.

In Vienna, the sense of shock over the letter-bombs - one of which seriously injured the city's Mayor, Helmut Zilk - remained acute. Newspaper columnists agonised over how such an outrage could befall a country that is normally so peaceful, while police cars raced around the city with sirens blaring to check out reports of suspicious packages. At 11am radio and television broadcasts were interrupted and public transport halted as a minute's silence was observed, not in commiseration with the four people injured in the attacks, but in protest against political violence.

Almost as soon as the letter-bombs began arriving last Friday, politicians began to look for underlying causes. According to Jorg Haider, leader of the far-right Freedom Party, the attacks were the result of years of over-liberal policies on foreigners, which had resulted in immigrants rising to some 10 per cent of the country's 7 million population. 'Austria has now become a centre for organised crime, and a lot of conflicts from abroad are now being settled here,' Mr Haider said.

But others point to Mr Haider as the cause. A rabid Austrian nationalist, he has for many years beaten the anti-foreigner drum. At the beginning of this year he collected almost 500,000 signatures for an anti-foreigner petition, forcing parliament to debate the issue and helping to ensure much tighter controls on immigrants were imposed.

After a stormy session in parliament on Friday, a member of the left-leaning Green Party claimed he was punched by a Freedom Party MP after telling him: 'Do not be surprised when the seeds you sow bear fruit.'

Theories that neo-Nazis were behind the attacks were strengthened on Monday when it was revealed that notes attached to some of the letter-bombs bore the slogan 'We are fighting back - Count Rudiger von Starhemberg', a reference to the man who successfully defended Vienna against the Turkish army in 1683 and who is frequently cited in Austrian neo-Nazi literature.

Wolfgang Neugebauer, a historian who specialises in studying the extreme right, said yesterday that in addition to wanting foreigners expelled from Austria, neo-Nazis could be out for revenge following the jailing for 10 years in September of Gottfried Kussel, one of their most important leaders.