AMESBURY, England — About 100 anti-nuclear protesters ambushed a convoy of six U.S. cruise missile launchers before dawn Tuesday, cutting air-brake hoses and crippling the vehicles for more than an hour, police said.
They said two men and two women were arrested and charged with obstructing highways in connection with the protest, organized by a group called Cruise Watch group.
Defense Ministry police arrested three other people for trespassing at the convoy's Greenham Common base, 50 miles west of London.
The ministry said the vehicles were not carrying missiles.
A Defense Ministry spokesman, who insisted on anonymity, said that such protests are not unusual and that "we tend not to get very excited about it. It happens every time the vehicles go out on exercise."
John Stanley, minister of state for the armed forces, responded more forcefully. "It's a very irresponsible action to do even in peacetime," he said. When a reporter asked if someone attempting it in time of war risked being shot, he added, "They certainly would, yes."
Police said the ambushers struck near Amesbury village, about 25 miles southwest of Greenham Common, attacking the convoy as it was returning to its base from a deployment exercise in Salisbury Plain, near Stonehenge.
Demonstrators cut the air-brake hoses on two cruise launchers, and U.S. servicemen riding atop spent more than an hour making emergency repairs, police reported.
Rob Watling, a spokesman for Cruise Watch, said later in a statement that the convoy was "completely undefended and indefensible."
"It is another example of how unarmed and untrained civilians can interrupt a NATO exercise. I hate to think what would happen if determined terrorists decided to attack this convoy," he said.
Cruise Watch, which has close links with Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, monitors the movement of cruise missiles around Britain and has attacked launchers before.
Police said a car on a side lane with an activist driving waited for police cars heading the convoy to pass, then blocked the convoy while fellow protesters emerged from hiding to daub windshields with paint.
Cruise missiles began arriving at Greenham Common on Nov. 14, 1983. In all, 96 cruises are scheduled for Greenham Common and 64 for a base being built at Molesworth near Cambridge, 50 miles north of London.
The missiles are among 464 cruise and 108 Pershing 2 rockets being installed in five West European countries under a North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreement. The alliance said the weapons are needed to counter a buildup of Soviet SS-20 missiles targeted on Western Europe.