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Bomb alerts ‘part of Irish dissident campaign’

Counter terrorism police and military bomb disposal units are investigating

A series of bomb alerts in England this week is an attempt by republican dissidents to mount a letter bombing campaign, something not seen on the British mainland since the early 1990s, security experts warned Thursday night.

Military units are on heightened alert after suspected explosive devices were found at armed forces recruitment offices across south-east England on Thursday. Army bomb disposal teams were called out to Oxford, Slough, Kent and Brighton.

This came after a suspicious package was sent to an army office in Aldershot on Wednesday, and “basic but viable explosive devices” were found in Chatham and Reading on Tuesday, according to police officers from the South East Counter Terrorism Unit (Sectu).

Explosive devices have been found in seven different parts of the country in the past three days. Amid mounting concern, David Cameron chaired a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee on Thursday to discuss the threat.

In a statement issued Thursday night, a Number 10 spokesperson said: “Seven suspect packages have been identified as containing small, crude, but potentially viable devices bearing the hallmarks of Northern Ireland related terrorism. These have now been safely dealt with by the police and bomb disposal units.

“Guidance has been issued to staff at all military establishments and Royal Mail asking them to be extra vigilant and to look out for any suspect packages and the screening procedures for mail to Armed Forces Careers offices is being reviewed.”

One of the suspect devices sent to an armed forces recruitment office had a Republic of Ireland postmark, the Press Association claimed Thursday night. Another suspect package was found in a vehicle which was stopped and searched at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, on Thursday, but it is understood that this was a false alarm and is not related to the other incidents.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former Cobra chairman, told The Independent: “Irish dissidents have certainly done this sort of thing before and targeted recruiting offices. Producing a viable letter bomb would be within their capability.” He added that dissident republicans “have wanted to do something like this for a long time and so it wouldn’t surprise me if it was them.”