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Letter bomb threat rattles Mexican biotechnology lab

Posted on behalf of Michele Catanzaro.

A letter containing explosive material was delivered on 11 February to the Institute of Biotechnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Morelos. Federal authorities are investigating whether the attempted attack was connected to the chain of letter bombs sent to Mexican research institutes beginning in 2011.

The letter contained material originating from fireworks, an alkaline battery and cables, according to a press release by UNAM. “It simulated a detonator mechanism, but it was not one: experts [from the Mexican army] have assured me that it was a device that could not explode,” Jorge Messeguer Guillén, secretary of the government of the state of Morelos, said at a press conference on 13 February. When the letter was discovered, it was delivered to the army, which destroyed it and checked whether other similar packets had been delivered to the campus.

The letter was addressed to the junior scientist Sergio Andrés Águila Puentes. On 14 February, his webpage at the Institute of Biotechnology’s website was changed, and he is now listed as a former collaborator of the research centre. Neither he nor anybody else at the institute was available to comment. Messeguer said that the letter came from Mexico City and that its sender was somebody known to Águila.

“This researcher touches subjects of nanotechnology, which some groups oppose. As well, there have been previous cases of this kind of threat, by groups that oppose genetic manipulations,” Messeguer said. Beginning in April 2011, an eco-anarchist group called Individuals Tending Towards Savagery (ITS) has claimed to be behind a series of bombings aimed at  scientists in Mexico, especially at those working in nanotechnology, causing serious injuries to two of them. “But federal authorities are exploring all lines of investigation.  This action may be attributable to the personal context of this researcher,” said Messeguer.

In November 2011, a scientist at the Institute of Biotechnology, Ernesto Méndez Salina, was killed during what appeared to be an attempted robbery. The event led a group of scientists to stage a demonstration asking for more security for the academic community.

“I am not aware of any previous threats to scientists in Morelos, including those working in nanotechnology”, says Jesús Antonio Del Río Portilla, president of the Academy of Sciences of Morelos. “We are worried, but we are waiting to fresh information,” he says.


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