London bomb threat ahead of queen's Ireland trip
British police received a coded bomb threat for London from Irish republicans Monday, heightening security fears on the eve of an historic and highly-charged trip by Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland.
Police sealed off roads near Buckingham Palace and carried out a controlled explosion after the warning, which also comes just a week before US President Barack Obama is due to visit the British capital.
"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 spokesman said.
"We believe the threat is in connection with dissident Irish republican terrorism," the spokesman told AFP.
The queen arrives in Ireland on Tuesday for a four-day trip, with reconciliation the theme in the first state visit by a British monarch since the republic gained independence in 1922.
The visit will be surrounded by a massive security operation amid threats from dissident republicans to the peace established in British-ruled Northern Ireland as a result of the 1998 Good Friday accord.
After the bomb threat in London on Monday, a spokesman for Buckingham Palace told AFP it did not comment on security matters. The queen was, however, 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 4:20 am (0320 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".
Detectives were also investigating a break-in at a building near the official residence of British foreign minister William Hague at about the same time. A spokesman would not say if the incident was related.
Specialist police officers were lowered into a sewer on a winch during the investigation, an AFP journalist at the scene said.
Coded warnings have been traditionally used by Irish republican groups.
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.
The threat level was lower than that from international terrorism, which remains at "severe", it said.
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."
Interior minister Theresa May warned last year that an attack on mainland Britain by Irish dissidents was a "strong possibility", following a similar 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 in a message delivered by a masked man at a rally in April that the 85-year-old queen was wanted for "war crimes" and was "not wanted on Irish soil".
The last British monarch to visit Ireland was King George V, who came in 1911 when it was still part of the United Kingdom.
Security in both Britain and Ireland was already tight before the alert in London as President Obama will visit Ireland next week before going on to Britain.
© 2011 AFP