London stations bombed IRA claims responsibility

February 19, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- The Irish Republican Army was blamed for bringing chaos to London's morning rush hour yesterday by exploding bombs at two rail stations, forcing police to cut all main-line train service into the capital.

It was the IRA's second major attack against a civilian target this month and came 10 days after it launched three mortar rounds at the prime minister's office on Downing Street. That attack caused structural damage but injured no one.

Bomb scares also closed London's Heathrow Airport. All four terminals were evacuated for two hours in the afternoon, and last night London's Whitehall, central location of government departments, was closed temporarily because of a suspicious package.

One man was killed and 41 people injured yesterday by the bomb that exploded on the main concourse of London's Victoria Station, gateway to London for thousands of commuters and arrival point for travelers from Gatwick Airport and continental rail services.

The bomb, hidden in a trash bin, exploded at 7:45 a.m. at the start of the morning rush to work and with the station crowded.

Another bomb, hidden in a roof support, exploded at Paddington Station three hours earlier, but no one was injured.

At 7 a.m., the London Transport Travel Center received a call from a man speaking with an Irish accent who said: "We are the Irish Republican Army. Bombs will go off at all mainline stations in 45 minutes."

The call was one of several received almost daily at the center and was regarded as too vague and too late for general alarm. Police began a search of the stations but issued no public warning, a decision that attracted criticism from travelers.

The search was still under way at Victoria when the bomb went off. Within minutes, all mainline stations were closed, and trains bringing a half-million commuters to town were stopped at stations outside the center.

The IRA later said it was responsible for both attacks, but blamed the casualties on authorities who did not evacuate the city's train stations. "All future warnings should be acted upon," it said in a statement.

The rail station bombings marked a new twist in the IRA terror campaign in England that started two years ago with an attack on an army barracks outside London.

The outlawed Irish organization appears to be switching tactics and targets regularly to confuse the security forces and undermine public confidence.

In recent months it has attacked the Carlton Club, a watering hole for Conservative Party leaders, and the Stock Exchange, symbol of English financial power. It also killed Ian Gow, an outspokenly anti-IRA member of Parliament.

Its mortar attack on Downing Street was its most sophisticated and audacious operation in England to date, but yesterday's bombs were meant to hit a larger target -- the British public.

The last time the IRA chose such a wide target was in December 1983, when a car bomb was placed outside Harrods department store during the pre-Christmas shopping spree. The attack killed six and injured 90.

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