A left-wing terrorist group, November 17, later claimed responsibility for the attempt on the Ark Royal as well as two separate attacks on American and Dutch insurance companies in Athens.
The Ark Royal had been in Greece for a week-long maintenance visit before returning to help enforce the United Nations embargo on Serbia. It left the port of Piraeus near Athens yesterday unaware of the potentially disastrous attack, Royal Navy officials said.
During the visit many Greeks toured the ship, which has a crew of 1,000 and usually carries nine Harrier jump-jets and a dozen Sea King helicopters.
In a search police discovered home-made rocket launchers with rockets and automatic timers in a field 200 yards from where the ship was docked. The search was carried out after an Athens radio station received an anonymous call saying the November 17 guerrilla group attempted to hit the 20,000-ton carrier with two 88mm rockets while it was in Piraeus.
Police said they thought the rockets were set to go off last week but rain had fouled the timers, thwarting the attack.
The guerrillas also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the Alico American Life Insurance company and a time-bomb attack on the Dutch Nationale Netherlanden insurance company yesterday. The blasts caused damage but no injuries.
November 17 is a small terrorist group opposed to foreign companies, the US military presence in Greece and the country's membership of the European Union and Nato. It has claimed responsibility for killing 19 people since first appearing in 1975 when it shot dead the US CIA station chief, Richard Welch. None of its members has been arrested.
In late 1990 and early 1991, the group attacked US and British business interests to protest against the allied war effort against Iraq.
The group, described by the US State Department as one of Europe's deadliest and most competent terrorist groups, resurfaced in January when it claimed responsibility for the murder of the former head of Greece's National Bank, Mihalis Vranopoulos.
The group carried out a raid on a Greek army depot in 1990, escaping with 3.5-inch anti-tank rockets which were used in nine separate attacks in 1991 on central Athens streets.
The group takes its name from the day in 1973 when the then-ruling military junta sent tanks to crush a student revolt in Athens.
Diplomats dismissed claims the targeting of the Ark Royal was linked to Britain's support for strikes against the Bosnian Serbs.