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Explosive Packages in U.K. Are Claimed as I.R.A. Attack, Police Say

Category: Politics,War & Conflict

LONDON — The police in Britain said on Tuesday that they were investigating a claim that packages containing explosives sent to London and Scotland last week came from a group calling itself the I.R.A., an abbreviation for the Irish Republican Army.

The Metropolitan Police of London said in a statement that counterterrorism officers and the Scottish police were investigating the claim, including its indication that a fifth package was sent but remains undiscovered.

Four packages were found last week at the University of Glasgow and three London transport hubs, including Heathrow Airport. Employees near the airport opened one device, causing part of the envelope to burn, but no one was hurt. The other packages were recovered by the police before being opened.

“Given the packages received last week bore similarities to devices sent in the past which were linked to dissident groups associated with Northern Ireland-related terrorism, officers were already looking at this as a line of inquiry,” the police said. “However, we continue to keep an open mind.”

The claim of responsibility was sent to a news outlet in Northern Ireland and used “a recognized code word,” the police said.

Code words known to the police were used by the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles, the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland that cost more than 3,500 lives, to signal that messages claiming to come from the group — including about terrorist attacks staged in its campaign for a unified Ireland — were authentic. The Irish News, a website based in Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast, said it had received the claim on Monday.

According to The Irish News, the group claiming responsibility said the device discovered at the University of Glasgow was intended for a British army recruitment officer who worked there. The group said the fifth device was also sent to a recruitment officer.

Photographs of the parcels published by the police showed stamps that appeared to be from the Irish postal service, reading “Love Éire” under a red heart.

The news came on the day Britain’s Parliament was scheduled to vote again on Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to leave the European Union, which includes a so-called Irish backstop provision meant to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Experts have warned that uncertainty surrounding the return of a hard border and longstanding political deadlock in Northern Ireland could lead to a return of violence.

The largest and most active of the paramilitary groups favoring a return to a united Ireland was known as the Provisional I.R.A. It formally stood down after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, largely ending the conflict, but small splinter groups have continued to carry out sporadic attacks.

In January, a car bomb exploded outside a courthouse in the town of Londonderry, Northern Ireland, without casualties. The explosion, which followed a pattern of attacks in the city like those during the Troubles, drew condemnation from across the political spectrum.

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