Greek law enforcement agencies and universities were on high alert as the tally of suspicious envelopes sent to the country’s universities from India, including some containing an unidentified irritating powder, continued to rise on Thursday evening. As more university rectors came forward to report the receipt of similar envelopes, their total number had risen to 12 at the last count on Thursday.
Based on the evidence so far, the envelopes had been sent by post many days ago and at least two, received by the University of Western Attica and the University of Western Macedonia, arrived around Christmas.
In addition to the envelopes sent to the University of the Aegean in Mytilene, Lesvos and the Ionian University on the island of Corfu, which set off the alarm, almost identical envelopes were later reported at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) and another Athens higher education institute, as well as several addressed to tertiary education establishments in Chania, Volos, Arta, the island of Kefallonia and Macedonia University in Thessaloniki. One more envelope addressed to a Thessaloniki university professor was seized at Athens international airport.
Apart from the envelope in Mytilene, none of the others opened so far contained any suspicious substance while the powder that irritated the nasal lining and mouth of employees at the University of the Aegean appears not to have been dangerous. According to sources, an analysis at the General State Chemical Laboratory indicated that the specific envelope contained a type of glue that is irritating to the nose and mouth and was soaked in a substance used in printing ink.
A definitive answer is still pending, however, since tests on the other envelopes have not been completed.
Any staff that handled the envelopes will undergo precautionary medical examinations, while the seven university employees that came into contact with the suspicious envelope in Mytilene were discharged on Thursday evening after biochemical tests came back negative.
On discovering the envelope, Greek authorities activated the protocol envisaged under the Plan for Managing Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear Threats, sending specially trained fire brigade officers in protective hazmat gear to pick up the suspicious envelopes and transfer them for testing to the State Chemical Laboratory.
They also quarantined areas where envelopes were found, such as the Corfu central post office that will remain closed on Friday, so they might undergo decontamination.
All seven envelopes were sent from India and addressed to the rectors and professors of Greek universities. In many cases, the recipients threw them away after opening them and finding they contained nothing but flyers or paper.
Universities and post offices have been informed to alert the authorities if more such packages are found.