Jane's Press Releases

Packages sent to UK transport hubs claimed by IRA in bid to create unease

12 March 2019

Chris Hawkins, senior analyst, Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre

Three packages containing incendiary devices were delivered to the Compass Centre at Heathrow Airport, Waterloo railway station, and City Aviation House at City Airport in London on 5 March. One of the packages was opened at the Compass Centre, igniting an incendiary device but causing no damage or casualties. The two others were recovered and made safe by police. The following day, police conducted a controlled explosion on a package sent to the University of Glasgow. Police stated that the incidents were linked. The packages were sent using Irish stamps with return addresses in Ireland. Although no motive has been established at the time of writing, Irish security sources cited in the Guardian speculated that dissident republican militants were the likely perpetrators. If this is confirmed, most likely by a claim of responsibility, the New IRA would be the likely perpetrators. The group was responsible for the last attempted attack by dissident republicans on the mainland UK in 2014 when similar devices were sent by post to army recruiting offices. A similar tactic was also used by the group in 2013 to send devices to politicians.

According to police, the devices were only capable of igniting a small fire when opened. Dissident republican involvement would indicate increased intent to target the UK mainland - exploiting Brexit and the possibility of a hard border in Ireland - but the parcels show low capability to conduct lethal attacks involving higher-yield explosive devices. The use of similar tactics or hoax devices, aimed at causing maximum transport and business disruption, would be a likely option. As a result of dissident republicans' low capability to mount attacks on the UK mainland, any resumed campaign would most likely be concentrated in Northern Ireland, targeting security forces, the judiciary, and other assets associated with the UK state. A credible claim of responsibility from a dissident republican group would increase the likelihood of a low-capability campaign on the UK mainland, whereas any arrests of members of the group responsible, most likely in the Irish Republic, would indicate a reduced risk.

Police announced on 12 March, that a statement signed by the IRA - likely the New IRA - sent to Northern Irish media had claimed responsibility for the packages. The statement reportedly said that five packages had been sent, although at time of writing only four had been delivered. The statement claimed that a fifth device had been sent to an army recruiting office. By reporting a fifth undiscovered device, the statement was likely intended to create disruption and unease through the media.

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