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Tuesday 19 March 2019

Dissident plot probed in London 'love' letter bombs

  • Gardaí and UK police investigate packages sent from Dublin amid Brexit tensions

  • Dublin postmarks and An Post stamps found on at least two of the letters

  • Police said the devices, in A4-sized white postal packages containing yellow Jiffy bags, were capable of igniting a small fire when opened

Frightening: Police officers at Waterloo station in London where one letter bomb was found. Photo: Reuters
Frightening: Police officers at Waterloo station in London where one letter bomb was found. Photo: Reuters
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Counter-terrorist police in Dublin and London are working closely to identify those responsible for three letter bombs sent to key transport hubs in the English capital.

Dublin postmarks and An Post stamps were found on at least two of the letters sent to Heathrow and London City airports and Waterloo train station.

One device exploded, causing little damage except to the package containing it, but the other two failed to detonate and were kept intact.

Officers placed a dissident republican faction, likely to have been the New IRA, at the top of the suspect list.

Garda intelligence has been indicating for several months that the New IRA was preparing to ramp up its activities in 2019.

The group is hoping to exploit any opportunities for terrorist action that might arise from Brexit, particularly if it resulted in a hard Border. In 2014 the New IRA admitted responsibility for a spate of letter bombs sent to British Army recruitment centres.

Two of the packages which contained the letter bombs (above), with Dublin postmarks
Two of the packages which contained the letter bombs (above), with Dublin postmarks

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the letter bombs last night, police here and in London began a major investigation. Anti-terrorist officers in London said they were satisfied that the three incidents were linked, and they were keeping an open mind on motives.

Other transport hubs have been put on alert and told to be vigilant for other suspicious packages. Officers on both sides of the Irish Sea are now hopeful that forensic examination of the packages will provide clues to the identity of those responsible.

The stamps appeared similar to some issued by An Post for Valentine's Day 2018, featuring a heart motif and the words 'Love' and 'Eire'.

Police said the devices, in A4-sized white postal packages containing yellow Jiffy bags, were capable of igniting a small fire when opened.

The packages had An Post stamps with the words ‘Love’ and ‘Eire’
The packages had An Post stamps with the words ‘Love’ and ‘Eire’

Sky News correspondent Alistair Bunkall tweeted a picture which he said showed the package sent to Heathrow airport.

One of the images showed a partially burned package addressed to Heathrow with 'Dublin' written in black ink in the bottom right-hand corner.

The other picture showed a jiffy bag addressed to Waterloo, with its sender's address appearing to be Bus Éireann, Dublin.

The bus operator said police had not been in touch, with a spokeswoman saying: "Bus Éireann is currently not aware of this and we have no further comment."

Police first received a report of a suspicious package at the Compass Centre, a building near Heathrow airport boundary, shortly before 10am yesterday.

The building was evacuated and specialist officers attended the scene to make the device safe. A Heathrow spokesman said that flights and passengers were not affected.

British Transport Police were later called to reports of a suspicious package in the post room at Waterloo station at 11.40am. The package was not opened and specialist officers again made the device safe.

Officers were also called to a report of a suspicious package at Aviation House at London City Airport shortly after midday.

The package was not opened, the building was evacuated and specialist officers made the device safe.

The devices were later described as unsophisticated. But officers said they had not ruled out that the devices could be the work of somebody with a grievance. The involvement of an international terrorist sympathiser was regarded as the least likely of the three options.

Yesterday's letter bombs were likely to have been sent to secure a publicity coup if dissident republicans were responsible.

But the three letter bombs from Dublin will heighten tensions about the potential impact of a hard Brexit on both sides of the Border.

The significance of the timing of the three-pronged attack is worrying for security chiefs on this island and in Britain.

Since last year, Garda intelligence had been indicating that the dissidents were "gearing up" for Brexit and planning to exploit any opportunities that might arise from Border-related difficulties and their impact on communities, North and south.

Dissident reaction could range from a car bomb exploding at public or commercial targets, to attacks on members of the security forces in Northern Ireland, to a series of hoaxes.

The New IRA has already carried out a car bomb attack outside a courthouse in Derry city in January. The faction is regarded by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI as the most dangerous terrorist group since the Provisional IRA declared a ceasefire more than two decades ago.

The New IRA has more than 50 activists and another 200 supporters, and some have acquired counter-surveillance skills by attending courses in countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Last week, gardaí discovered an arms dump in a wooded area outside Omeath, Co Louth. The hide included two rifles and Semtex plastic explosives, enough to act as a booster for three under-car bombs, although this find was linked to a separate dissident faction.

Irish Independent

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