Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism branch, SO15, has launched a national investigation into the threats plaguing Britain’s universities.
The UK’s universities are being terrorised by what detectives believe is a linked series of bomb threats designed to cause chaos on universities’ campuses.
Around 50 institutions have been the victim of hundreds of hoaxes in the past month, forcing the evacuation of buildings and prompting an urgent escalation in security.
Some threats have been made over the
phone, but the majority are being sent to the universities through an anonymous remailer, a server that receives messages with embedded instructions on where to send them next, and forwards them without revealing where they originally came from.
Cambridge University has received daily warnings over the last three weeks of incendiary devices planted on its estate, forcing the evacuation of buildings, including 14th-century Clare College, whose alumni include the broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
"It has been three weeks now that we have been seeing overnight emails at a specific address at the university, alleging that there are incendiary devices or other such at various locations. They have been daily. No devices have been found at all, but we do treat each message seriously and inform the police and the relevant authorities. In some cases we have needed to evacuate, in others just carry out security sweeps", said a spokesman for the university.
Detectives have been left mystified as to what might be the motive behind the threats, which often mention specific buildings and at other times warn generally of a bomb "somewhere on campus".
An emailed hoax to halls of residence at Bristol University in April, which forced evacuations, said: "Two small bombs are hidden in Wills and Durdham Halls. They will explode later today. Take this warning very, very seriously."
Universities that have been targeted
include Essex and Durham universities, University College London and the University of the West of England.
"This is being treated as a suspected linked series of malicious communications. These threats have the potential to cause distress and disruption", said a Scotland Yard spokesman.