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IRA dissidents blamed in bomb outside BBC: 2nd scare outside station

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March 5, 2001 


LONDON-(AP) - A powerful bomb blast blamed by police on IRA dissidents went off outside the BBC's television center early Sunday, injuring one person. Hours later, a second bomb scare prompted police to briefly seal off the area around a busy rail station in the heart of London.

Police called the blast outside the British Broadcasting Corp. television center in west London part of a campaign of attacks by those opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland, and urged increased public vigilance. Prime Minister Tony Blair branded it a "cowardly act."

The bomb, planted inside a taxi parked outside the British Broadcasting Corp.'s TV building in west London, was detonated by a timing device as police were trying to defuse it with a controlled explosion, Scotland Yard said. Two telephoned warnings, using code words known to police, had already triggered an evacuation of the main building.

The device was made from between 10 and 20 pounds of high explosives, police said. The blast, which could be heard for miles, shattered windows and cracked plaster in nearby buildings, scattering debris over a wide area.

A London subway system worker was treated at the scene for cuts from flying glass.

The BBC said it was handing over to police the tapes from its surveillance cameras in the parking lot, but had no other immediate comment, saying the investigation was a police matter.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion, but police said evidence so far pointed to IRA dissidents, who have been linked to other recent attacks in London.

"I believe that those responsible for this explosion are indeed a dissident Irish republican group," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry. He said police expected more such attacks, and urged people to be particularly alert in coming weeks for suspicious parcels or vehicles.

Underscoring that, police sent in the bomb squad and cordoned off the area near busy Victoria station - crowded with tourists and shoppers - after a suspicious vehicle was spotted. Police inspector Michael Heath said a controlled explosion was carried out by the bomb squad, but it was not immediately clear whether any device had been planted.

The subway station at Victoria was closed during the alert, which lasted about 90 minutes, but mainline rail service at the adjacent train station continued to operate.

Police said the taxi used in the BBC bombing had been purchased Saturday from a dealer in London by a man who spoke with a Northern Ireland accent. Fry, the deputy assistant commissioner, also said police were looking at the possibility that the attack was staged in retaliation for a BBC documentary last year about the 1998 bombing in the Northern Ireland town of Omagh that killed 29 people.

A hard-line IRA splinter group, the Real IRA, claimed responsibility for the Omagh blast, the worst terrorist strike in Northern Ireland's history.

The Real IRA was also blamed for a brazen September grenade attack on the London headquarters of Britain's foreign intelligence service MI6, which caused no injuries but did some minor structural damage and embarrassed the spy establishment.

"This is an organization that seeks publicity, and where better than the BBC offices?" said Fry. "It is part of the British institution, part of our establishment in that regard."

The Irish Republican Army has observed a cease-fire since 1997. Defectors who reject Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord are believed to be responsible for recent explosions in Northern Ireland and England, including a small bomb that exploded on London's Hammersmith Bridge in June and a bomb planted on railway tracks in west London in July.

Sunday's explosion also took place very near to an army base where a 14-year-old boy was seriously injured last month by a flashlight booby-trapped with high explosives that he picked up. The boy lost a hand and was left blinded.

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