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Dissident link probe as three letter bombs posted to London transport hubs

The letter bomb sent to Heathrow Airport yesterday
The letter bomb sent to Heathrow Airport yesterday

By Tom Brady

Counter-terrorist police officers in London and Dublin 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 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.

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 Eire N'.

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

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 Eireann, Dublin.

The bus operator said police had not been in touch, with a spokeswoman saying: "Bus Eireann are 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 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 publicity if republican dissidents 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.

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