WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Two Polish men have been arrested and charged with carrying out a string of bomb attacks at IKEA stores across Europe and trying to extort millions from the Swedish furniture giant, authorities said Saturday.
The arrests shed light on a mysterious spate of bombings that had prompted the evacuation of spooked shoppers and forced the retailer known for its affordable self-assembly furniture and bright blue-and-yellow stores to beef up security around the continent.
A handful of homemade bomb attacks occurred from May to September in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic. Two people were lightly injured in the German attack but there were no fatalities. Some of the bombs were potentially lethal, though not all detonated.
Polish officials said they have significant evidence incriminating the two men for planting the explosives and trying to extort euro6 million ($8 million) from IKEA. The arrests were made after a manhunt involving investigators from across Europe.
"The perpetrators prepared for this very carefully. They set up a bank account, demanded a transfer over the Internet, but fortunately the ransom was never paid," said Andrzej Matejuk, police commander with the Central Bureau of Investigation.
"Significant evidence was gathered on the men which clearly points to their guilt," Matejuk said.
After the last attack, in Prague, the men demanded that IKEA pay them euro6 million ($8 million) and threatened more attacks if the money wasn't paid quickly, Matejuk said at a news conference in Wroclaw.
IKEA spokeswoman Camilla Meiby said Saturday that the "detonations recently have developed into an extortion scheme, which we of course have taken very seriously."
She said IKEA was informed of the arrests by Polish police Saturday but did not want to comment further at this point.
"We continue to closely cooperate with the Polish police," Meiby told The Associated Press.
Both men were charged with endangering the lives of many people, extortion and racketeering and could face up to 10 years in prison.
They were identified as Mikolaj G. and Adam K., both 39-year-olds from the northern Polish city of Gdynia. Their full names were not given, in accordance with Polish laws that protect the identities of suspects.
Matejuk said that one of them has committed crimes in the past, including dealing drugs. The other has a very different profile: a former manager of several companies who speaks four languages and had no criminal record.
Police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said the men were arrested Wednesday after hundreds of Polish officers worked on the case along with counterparts in the countries where the attacks occurred.
"Because the bomb loads were getting stronger, there was a serious threat to the life and health of many people. Time counted," Sokolowski told the news agency PAP.
Stores in Belgium, the Netherlands and France were hit by simultaneous bombings in May. Witnesses at a store in Ghent compared the explosions to large firecrackers and an employee and a security guard complained of minor ear injuries as a result of the noise. The explosion in the Netherlands destroyed a trash can.
Two people suffered blast trauma and some furniture was slightly damaged in a blast in Germany in June. IKEA said at the time the explosives were different from those used in the simultaneous incidents.
The most recent bombing was in the Czech Republic on Sept. 2.
The attacks across Europe frightened shoppers and prompted IKEA to beef up security and vigilance at its stores. It's not clear, however, if the attacks scared off enough shoppers to hurt IKEA's income. The family-owned company last reported earnings early this year.
IKEA said net income was euro2.69 billion ($3.55 billion) in the 12 months to Aug. 31, 2010. That was up from a profit of euro2.53 billion in the previous year, which was the first time the company released a full-year financial statement.