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Bomb Threats Close London's Airports for 2 Hours

March 14, 1994| From Associated Press

LONDON — New bomb threats prompted authorities to close London's two major airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, for two hours Sunday night--just hours after the third mortar attack on Heathrow in five days.

Scotland Yard said no explosives were found after the last warnings, which it called a "cynical ploy by the IRA to cause unnecessary confusion and fear amongst the public." The airports were reopened at 9:45 p.m. local time.

Thousands of airline passengers were affected. Many were diverted to outlying airports or forced to wait in terminals for hours.

In all, 12 mortar shells have been fired at Heathrow since Wednesday, all failing to explode. No one was injured although air traffic was seriously disrupted.

On Sunday, one mortar landed on the roof of Terminal Four, used primarily for British Airways international flights, and three others landed nearby.

The Irish Republican Army, which had claimed responsibility for the first attack, issued a statement in Dublin, Ireland, late Sunday accusing the British government of ignoring its warnings.

The IRA has targeted tourism in its campaign to force an end to British rule in Northern Ireland. It also is trying to pressure Britain's government to make concessions before the IRA joins peace talks.

Several news organizations received telephoned warnings about 90 minutes before the mortar attack Sunday morning, police said.

All flights arriving and departing on one runway were stopped for several hours.

Previously, it had not been clear whether the shells were inadvertent duds or if they were intended not to explode.

But David Tucker, commander of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, said the shells were loaded with plastic explosives and failed only because "there appears to be a consistent mechanical defect."

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