A major security operation in Melbourne, Australia was sparked after suspicious packages were reportedly found at multiple diplomatic consulates in Melbourne and embassies in Canberra before 2 p.m. on Jan. 9.
Police have charged a 48-year-old Victorian man with sending dangerous articles via a postal service. Late Jan. 9, Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) arrested the man at his home in Shepparton in northern Victoria. The man appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court early Jan. 10.
He did not apply for bail and was remanded by the magistrate Costas Kilias to reappear on March 4, according to AAP. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Police alleged that the man had sent 38 parcels to consulates and embassies in Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra. The parcels contain a substance they believe came from his Shepparton home. Police said they plan to have the 29 packages they had recovered forensically tested.
“There is no ongoing threat to the general public,” both police forces said in a joint statement, according to the ABC. “Police have identified all intended recipients and have put processes in place to recover the outstanding packages … The assistance of [Australia Post] has been crucial to the outcome of this investigation.”
According to local reports, most of the packages were uncovered on Jan. 9 on Melbourne’s St Kilda Road at the New Zealand, U.S., UK, Indian, Korean, German, and Swiss consulates.
It is understood that the Italian, New Zealand, Egyptian, Pakistani, Greek, Spanish, Japanese, German, and French consulate in Melbourne were also affected.
Embassies in Canberra have also been hit, but it is not known which ones have been affected, according to AAP. A spokesman for the U.S. consulate in Melbourne confirmed that the Melbourne consulate had received a suspicious package but the U.S. embassy in Canberra was not targeted, according to the ABC.
One official from the Pakistani consulate in Melbourne told the ABC that she opened a suspicious envelope at 10 a.m. that looked like it contained asbestos.
The New Zealand consulate in Melbourne said it had received a similar envelope, and inside the envelope were small plastic bags that looked as though they contained asbestos, the ABC was informed. Furthermore, “asbestos” was written outside of the bag.
“Victoria Police is aware of a number of consulate offices in Melbourne today receiving suspicious packages,” Victoria Police wrote to Twitter.
“At this time we believe the matter is targeted and not impacting the general community.”
At least 18 “hazardous materials” alerts were made through Emergency Victoria’s website on Jan. 9. The alerts began appearing from about 1 p.m. The alerts pointed to Market Street, Bourke Street, Middleton Lane, William Street, and St Kilda Road in Melbourne, Elgin Street at Carlton, and Yertchuk Avenue at Ashwood, with each location matching the address of a consulate.
BREAKING: Police and emergency services have responded to suspicious packages to embassies and consulates in ACT & VIC today (Wednesday, 9 January 2019). The packages are being examined by attending emergency services. The circumstances are being investigated.
— AFP (@AusFedPolice) January 9, 2019
“Police and emergency services have responded to suspicious packages to embassies and consulates in ACT & VIC today (Wednesday, 9 January 2019),” a Twitter post from the AFP just after 3 p.m. said.
“The packages are being examined by attending emergency services. The circumstances are being investigated.”
BREAKING: Paramedics enter the Korean embassy in Melbourne, joining firefighters inside, after a suspicious package was sent. Multiple embassies being investigated right now after receiving similar packages. @7NewsMelbourne pic.twitter.com/KTY4HN0EDf
— Kristy Mayr (@KristyMayr7) January 9, 2019
The incident took place two days after a large-scale emergency response to a suspicious substance that had been allegedly detected inside parcels at the Argentinian consulate in downtown Sydney. However, the substance, which was powder in clear plastic bags in an envelope, was subsequently deemed not dangerous.