Irish republicans issue London bomb threat

London police received a bomb threat from Irish republicans on Monday, on the eve of an historic trip by Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic of Ireland and a week before US President Barack Obama visits the British capital.

Police sealed off roads near Buckingham Palace, heightening tensions after a spike in violence in Northern Ireland and a statement by a top paramilitary group that the queen was “not wanted on Irish soil”.

“A bomb threat warning has been received relating to central London today. The threat is not specific in relation to location or time,” a Scotland Yard spokesperson said.

“We believe the threat is in connection with dissident republican terrorism.”

The queen arrives in Ireland on Tuesday for a highly-charged four-day trip aimed at reconciliation following the peace established in British-ruled Northern Ireland as a result of a 1998 accord.

The visit will be surrounded by a massive security operation amid threats from dissident republicans opposed to any British presence on Irish soil.

Security in Britain and Ireland was already tight, as Obama will visit Ireland next week before going on to Britain.

Following the bomb threat, a spokesperson for Buckingham Palace, the British monarch’s official residence, told AFP it did not comment on security matters. But the queen was not at the palace at the time, a royal source said.

Police closed the area around The Mall, a broad boulevard leading to the palace, for several hours from around 4:20am (03:20 GMT) but said nothing suspicious was found.

They also carried out a controlled explosion of a suitcase nearby but, again, the object was “non-suspicious”.

Specialist police officers were lowered into a sewer on a winch during the investigation.

In the past, Irish republican groups have used established codes in their bomb threats to convince authorities of their authenticity.

There has been a recent upsurge in dissident republican violence in Northern Ireland, with a policeman killed by a bomb in April, but Scotland Yard said there had been no change in the official threat level.

“The threat level from Irish-related terrorism has not increased and remains at ‘substantial’, meaning that an attack is a strong possibility. The threat level was raised in September 2010 from moderate to substantial,” a statement said.

“This is lower than the overall threat to the UK from international terrorism which remains at ‘severe’.”

It added: “Londoners should continue to go about their business as usual but we encourage the public to remain vigilant and report any information about unusual activity or behaviour which may be terrorist-related.”

Home Secretary Theresa May warned last year that an attack on mainland Britain by Irish dissidents was a “strong possibility”, following a warning by the head of MI5, the British domestic intelligence agency.

In Ireland, a 10 000-strong force will be deployed in the country’s biggest-ever security operation for the queen’s visit.

Police on both sides of the Irish border have arrested several dissident republican suspects amid fears that such groups will attempt to hijack the occasion with an attack.

The Real IRA paramilitary splinter group said the queen was wanted for “war crimes” and was “not wanted on Irish soil”, threatening to ensure that she and “her cheerleaders get that message”.

It will be first state visit to Ireland by a British monarch since the republic gained independence in 1922. King George V visited when it was still part of the United Kingdom, in 1911.—AFP

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