Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Irish dissident bomb threat shuts down central London

Large parts of central London were closed down Monday after a bomb threat believed to have come from dissident Republican groups in Northern Ireland was received by Scotland Yard, police confirmed.

'We face a real and serious threat from terrorism,' a spokeswoman for the Home Office (Interior Ministry) said.

The coded threat, which triggered a huge security operation, came as Queen Elizabeth II was preparing to visit the Republic of Ireland for a four-day historic visit starting Tuesday.

Also, US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are expected on a state visit in London next week.
The 'non-specific' threat that a bomb would go off Monday was received late Sunday, police sources said.

Large parts of central London, including the Mall, the tree-lined avenue leading up to Buckingham Palace, were sealed off for several hours Monday, and ambulance crews were deployed as a precaution.

There are a number of royal palaces and government buildings in the vicinity of the Mall, which was also the route for the open carriage wedding procession of Prince William and his wife, Catherine, just over two weeks ago.

There had been increasing speculation that Irish dissident groups, which have split off from the former Irish Republican Army (IRA), would attempt to time a threatened attack to coincide with the queen's visit.

But with security high for the queen's trip to the Republic of Ireland, dissidents would be more likely to target the British province of Northern Ireland, or the British mainland, to cause any disruption.

The threat received in London was believed to be the first linked to possible action on the British mainland by dissidents since the mainstream IRA gave up its terrorist campaign in 2005, as a consequence of the 1998 Northern Ireland Peace Agreement.

However, dissident groups opposed to the peace agreement have continued to pursue a campaign of violence in Northern Ireland, albeit at a much less intensive level than during the height of the 30 years of sectarian violence, known as the Troubles. 'A bomb threat warning has been received relating to central London today. The threat is not specific in relation to location or time,' read the statement from Scotland Yard.

Londoners were urged to go about their business as usual but to look out for 'unusual activity or behaviour,' while all police officers were advised to be 'highly vigilant to ensure the safety of London.'

However, Scotland Yard also said that the threat level from Irish-related terrorism had not been raised and remained at 'substantial', meaning that an attack was a strong possibility.

This is lower than the overall threat to Britain from international terrorism, including al-Qaeda-related terrorism, which remains at 'severe' - meaning that an attack is likely.

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