A subway station bomb believed to have been planted by a dissident Irish group reduced key sections of London to gridlock today and raised fears of renewed terrorist attacks on the British mainland.
Police safely detonated the device at west London’s Ealing Broadway Underground station after receiving a coded warning. The warning used the same code name employed by a dissident group in connection with the June 30 bombing of a Dublin-Belfast rail line, authorities said.
Scotland Yard said early morning calls from Dublin also contained threats on two key stations in central London, Westminster and Victoria. Both were closed for hours as experts searched unsuccessfully for explosives.
The resulting chaos disrupted royal fans attending the 100th birthday pageant for Queen Mother Elizabeth and made getting around the capital a nightmare for tens of thousands of commuters and tourists. People throughout London had to coped with diverted trains, closed stations and suspended services.
“As always, we are advising the public to remain on their guard,” said Alan Fry, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Watch Out for Splinter Groups
Northern Ireland’s police chief, Ronnie Flanagan, has warned that splinter paramilitary groups opposed to the province’s 1998 Good Friday peace accord are intent on carrying their campaign to mainland Britain. Peter Mandelson, Britain’s highest-ranking official in Northern Ireland, told the House of Commons today that he would work closely with the Irish government to combat the threat.
“The main paramilitary groups are maintaining their cease-fires,” Mandelson said. “There remains, though, a threat from dissident paramilitaries who are opposed to the Good Friday agreement.”
Last month, a small bomb exploded on the Hammersmith Bridge over the River Thames. The bridge remains closed.
No one claimed responsibility, although authorities suspected Irish terrorists. The Irish Republican Army, which has been observing a cease-fire since 1997, planted two bombs on the Hammersmith Bridge in April 1996.
Gerry Kelly of the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party — once imprisoned for bombing London’s Old Bailey criminal courthouse — said today that any device planted in the British capital by dissidents would clearly be an attempt to sabotage Northern Ireland’s peace accord.
“The only effective counter to such activities is to demonstrate clearly and unambiguously that politics works,” said Kelly, now a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly set up as part of the peace accord.
Adding to the confusion today was a suspicious package near Whitehall, the street stretching from Parliament to Trafalgar squares, which contains a number of government offices. Scotland Yard said another controlled explosion was carried out on the package, which turned out to be merely an unattended bag.
Whitehall is near the site where the pageant marking the Queen Mother’s upcoming birthday was held today.
“It’s really sick that the terrorists are trying to spoil everybody’s day, but it’s made us all the more determined to be here — it’s a privilege,” said Jill Charman, 62, who traveled to London from Desborough, northwest of the capital, and ended up walking the last short leg of the trip.