Suspicious Mail Closes Embassies in Australia

The embassies of the United States and four other countries with troops in Iraq were closed Thursday in the Australian capital after they received envelopes containing white powder, authorities said.

The packages also were sent to the embassies of Britain, Japan, Italy and South Korea. Tests showed that the powder in at least two of the parcels was not harmful, police said.

"It is a nonsense, it is a waste of resources and it is a silly way for any person to make their point, political or otherwise," said police Cmdr. Shane Connelly.

He could not say whether the incidents were linked and said there was no apparent political motive.

Powder packages also were sent to Australia's parliament and the office of Prime Minister John Howard (search), a staunch U.S. ally who has sent troops in Iraq. Police would not say if they were investigating a link to the Iraq war.

The U.S. Embassy was closed for several hours after staff found an envelope containing powder and called local police, an embassy spokeswoman said. She said police determined "it was not a bad substance" and would not say if there was a note.

Italy's deputy ambassador, Angelo Travaglini, said the envelope contained a white powder but had no accompanying note.

"It was just an envelope addressed to our embassy," he told The Associated Press.

Hazardous material handling teams secured all the envelopes and emergency response crews were investigating, a police spokesman said.

All the embassies were temporarily closed, but Parliament House remained open.

The envelopes were the latest in a series of incidents involving official buildings in the capital.

Earlier this week, a suspicious package containing white powder that was later found to be harmless triggered a security scare at the Indonesian Embassy, less than a week after a similar incident caused staff there to be quarantined and decontaminated.

That incident also proved to be a hoax and was linked to supporters of an Australian woman convicted in Indonesia of drug smuggling in a case that has sparked anger among many Australians.