Dissident republicans blamed for wave of parcel bombs posted to Army careers offices across England
Downing Street has blamed dissident republicans for a wave of parcel bombs posted to Army recruitment offices in England.
No 10 said the seven packages found so far bear the "hallmarks of Northern Ireland-related terrorism".
Amid mounting concern David Cameron (below) chaired a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee yesterday to discuss the threat.
Sources described the devices as "crude" in design but they "could have caused injury to others".
Security chiefs on both sides of the border believe the parcels were sent by associates of a senior 'New IRA' figure, based in Londonderry.
Four of the bombs were discovered at Army careers offices in Oxford, Brighton (above right), Canterbury and the Queensmere shopping centre in Slough, counter-terrorism police said.
One package was found in Aldershot in Hampshire on Wednesday, while two were found on Tuesday at the armed forces careers office in Reading, Berkshire, and the Army and RAF careers office in Chatham, Kent.
Sources in Dublin indicated that two of the seven low-grade explosive parcels were sent from the Republic. At least one of them was mailed from a border county in the Republic.
It is understood the rest were delivered from different locations within Britain.
Sources suggested that the crude devices were a low-risk means for dissidents to get the attention of the media and Government after a series of successful counter-terrorism operations, rather than marking the start of a major new campaign in England.
A Downing Street spokeswoman 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."
Colonel Richard Kemp, former Cobra chairman, said: "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".
In October last year dissidents were blamed for sending letter bombs – thought to be similar to the devices found yesterday – to Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott. None exploded.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the attack came against the backdrop of a "continuing drum beat of activity from dissident republican organisations" in Northern Ireland.
"I can assure you we haven't taken our eye off the ball," he said.
"Northern Ireland remains very high on our list of security priorities and the various security authorities are very conscious of the fact that there is a continuing terrorist threat from dissident republican organisations and that it could spill over into the UK mainland and we keep a very close watch on that."
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it was "by God's grace that no one has been injured by these crude devices". "Those who cling to terrorism should realise that it failed in the past and it will do so again," he said.
Martin McGuinness described it as "an attack on the peace process". "Those responsible belong to the past. Their futile acts must be condemned," he said.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "This was the work of cowards and should be condemned by all in positions of leadership."
SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly called it "a sinister development".
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said: "Sadly they are following the tactics of the old IRA and have clearly learned nothing from the past."
STORY SO FAR
Previous attacks by dissidents in England.
Thursday, 1 June 2000: Dissidents are blamed after a device exploded under Hammersmith Bridge in west London.
Wednesday 19 July 2000: Police deal with a bomb near Ealing Broadway Tube station in London.
Friday, 20 September 2000: Dissident republicans launch a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the London HQ of MI6.
Sunday, 4 March 2001: A device explodes in a red taxi parked outside the BBC News Centre in west London.
Saturday, 14 April 2001: A bomb at a Post Office delivery depot at Hendon in north London explodes. There were no injuries.
Thursday, 2 August 2001: A bomb attack targets Ealing Broadway in west London. A number of people are injured.
Saturday, 3 November 2001: Explosion in a car in Birmingham.