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Man with grenade held at Gatwick

Police officers guard the entrance to the north terminal of Gatwick Airport

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Troops have been deployed to London's Heathrow Airport, the world's busiest international hub. CNN's Walt Rodgers reports.
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LONDON, England -- Police have arrested a man at London's Gatwick Airport after finding a live grenade in his luggage.

The man, a 37-year-old Venezuelan national, had arrived on a flight from South America, and the grenade was found when his luggage was searched, authorities said.

The man was arrested by Sussex police at about 4:50 p.m. (1650 GMT) on Thursday under the UK Terrorism Act and was being taken to a central London police station, where he was to be interrogated by anti-terrorist detectives.

He had arrived aboard British Airways Flight 2048 from Caracas, Venezuela, via Bogota, Colombia, and Bridgetown, Barbados. It wasn't clear where he boarded the plane, a Boeing 777 with 125 passengers on board.

"On arrival at the airport the man's luggage was searched and found to contain a suspicious item. The item has been examined by explosives officers and it appears to be a live grenade," according to a police statement.

The north terminal of Gatwick was evacuated as part of the security alert, and flights were diverted to the south terminal. The north terminal reopened about 8 p.m. Thursday after being closed for more than five hours.

Hundreds of passengers were stranded in the south terminal during the alert as they awaited flights which would have left via the north terminal.

Roadblocks were set up outside the north terminal, where British Airways is the main carrier.

BA said it has begun an investigation into how the grenade got on to the plane undetected. The airline said its policy is to screen all baggage before allowing it onto planes.

"The problem did not become apparent until the man went through Customs," a BA spokesman said.

Sussex police inspector Lloyd Balfour said: "There was no detonation of any explosives whatsoever. There was no injury to any members of the public. The north terminal was evacuated as a precaution."

A British Airways spokesman told Reuters: "We do have a few flights that have just landed and the passengers are being kept on board."

A BA worker added: "The army are down there, armed police are everywhere, everything coming in is being held on the tarmac."

At about the same time as the Gatwick arrest, authorities arrested two men near Heathrow Airport under Britain's Terrorism Act.

Scotland Yard called the arrests in the suburb of Hounslow "precautionary" and said the men were being questioned at a West London police station. No further details were released.

Home Secretary David Blunkett's office urged the public not to "jump to conclusions" about the arrest at Gatwick.

"It is not uncommon for people in airports to be discovered with some form of weaponry," Blunkett's official spokesman said.

"It doesn't mean they are all al Qaeda terrorists.

"People should not jump to conclusions about this incident and should give police time to assess whether this was anything more than a lone individual carrying something he shouldn't have been."

Earlier on Thursday, Blunkett told the House of Commons that Britain was facing a "real and serious threat."

He told MPs that the "public must be alert but not alarmed," but said, "we must also avoid ... the kind of economic and social damage that does the work of the terrorists for them."

He said: "I do not believe that it is responsible to provide a running public commentary on every end and turn."

Blair: "We make a judgment based on the advice of our security services what the appropriate action is to take"

Also on Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair defended his decision to order a major increase in visible security in London, including 450 troops at Heathrow, without explaining the nature of the exact terror risk or perceived threat.

Blair stressed the need for security precautions to stave off what he said was the threat of "disorder and chaos" caused by terror groups and rogue unstable states.

Appearing at a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Blair said: "It's important people realise... that the threat that preoccupies ... countries right throughout the world, is the threat of disorder and chaos as a result of terrorist groups, or rogue unstable states, with chemical, biological, potentially nuclear weapons capability.

"And the threat the world faces today is disorder and chaos that comes from these types of groups operating throughout the world."

He said that on each occasion "we make a judgment based on the advice of our security services what the appropriate action is to take."

He added: "We cannot and should not start disclosing details of everything we know or may know. It's important we take every precaution we can in order to keep people safe.

"The only way we can be fully safe is not just taking security measures necessary to protect ourselves... but to make sure, along with other countries in the world, we do absolutely everything we can to root these terrorists out."

Blair and Blunkett were speaking as security, including the deployment of troops and tanks, was stepped up at Heathrow Airport and other possible targets, especially in and around London. (Full story)

The opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have called for time to be set aside for a discussion in parliament.

Around 1,700 extra police officers were at Heathrow and other key London sites and security was also beefed up at Manchester airport, including spot checks by armed officers.

The Ministry of Defence has refused to comment on reports that military jets are patrolling the skies over the capital.

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