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British counter-terrorism police find suspicious packages at England army recruitment centers

LONDON -- Personnel at a U.S. Air Force Base in England briefly closed the main gate to the compound Thursday as a bomb disposal team inspected a suspicious package found in a vehicle that tried to gain access.

According to a statement released by the U.S. Air Force, which operates out of the British Air Force Base in Sussex, southern England, bomb technicians and the U.S. and British militaries had "certified it is now safe."

The statement on the base website did not explain what was found in the suspect package, but the event appeared to be over and the main gate was reopened.

The scare came as bomb disposal units were also sent to Brighton, Oxford and Slough to assess packages and roads near to British Army recruitment offices, which had been sealed off after the discovery of suspicious packages at those locations, the South East Counter Terrorism Unit said in a statement.

The packages contained "viable devices" bearing the hallmarks of "Northern Ireland terrorism", a spokeswoman from Prime Minister David Cameron's office said on Thursday.

"Seven suspect packages have been identified as containing small, crude, but potentially viable devices bearing the hallmarks of Northern Ireland related terrorism," the spokeswoman said in a statement. "These have now been safely dealt with by the police and bomb disposal units."

Cameron was briefed on the finds at a meeting of the government's crisis committee, known as COBRA.

Similar packages were found this week at U.K. Army Careers offices in Aldershot, Reading and Chatham.

The BBC reported that officers on the scene had confirmed the package in Reading had been a small but viable explosive device which had been received in the post.

“Because suspicious packages were found at various locations, notes were sent out to all the Army Careers offices as well as the Post Office asking staff to be extra vigilant and look out for any suspect packages,” said Detective Superintendent Stan Gilmour.

Last May, two British Muslims hacked to death soldier Lee Rigby, who held a recruiting post for the army, near his barracks in Woolwich, southeast London. They said they had targeted him specifically because of his military links, blaming Britain's foreign policy for their actions. 

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