By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The Real IRA is being blamed for a car bomb that rocked BBC Television Center in London at midnight on Sunday as police officers tried to carry out a controlled explosion of the taxi cab that carried the device.
The bomb, packed with about 12 pounds of high explosive, is being linked to dissident Irish republicans, although no claim was made in the days immediately after the explosion. The device was contained in a red taxi purchased the night before.
BBC cameras captured the explosion, heard several miles away. A cameraman described it as “a huge orange fireball and a pall of smoke, which, even in the night sky, was visible.”
A colleague said: “The room shook. There was a loud banging. There was some panic.”
Said a BBC spokesman: “We evacuated the main building and put our emergency plans into action. Broadcasting on channels has remained throughout the incident.”
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said those involved represented a “micro-group” whose agenda is to wreck the peace process.
Newspapers linked the bomb to a BBC documentary last year that named those Real IRA members allegedly behind the August 1998 Omagh bombing, in which 30 people died.
Two coded warnings were given before the recent bombing and the area was evacuated. A worker at a nearby subway was slightly injured in the eye, but there were no serious injuries.
The head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch of the Metropolitan Police, deputy assistant commissioner Alan Fry, said the explosion was an escalation of the Real IRA’s campaign. The RUC chief constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said he feared more to come.
“We have been predicting, since Christmas, that the mainland, and London in particular, were to be subject to terrorist attacks,” Fry said.
The blast smashed windows in the glass-fronted center, destroyed the taxi carrying the bomb and shook houses up to a mile away. The police said the driver may have had an altercation with another driver just before the bomb was planted.
A coded warning was received by a London hospital at 11:22 p.m. stating that a maroon London cab containing a bomb was parked outside TV Center, police said.
A second coded warning was issued to an unnamed charity at two minutes later.
A bomb-disposal team was at the scene within 20 minutes and was attempting a controlled explosion when the bomb went off.
The taxi, parked near a bus stop outside the main entrance, was destroyed in the blast and debris scattered over a 150-meter area.
The explosion was condemned by British Northern Secretary John Reid, who insisted that the bomb must hasten the search for a way forward.
“This is a predictable attempt to disrupt the peace process by extremists who have a contempt for both human life and the wishes of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.
Ulster Unionist security spokesman Ken Maginnis described the dissident republican attack as “predictable.” He criticized the Irish government for failing to take “more pro-active measures” against groups like the Real IRA.
Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs, Brian Cowen, also condemned the attack, saying it was the “mindless act of people who have rejected all attempts to bring peace to these islands and who have no alternative to offer except misery and grief.”