Category: Archive

British blast?

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

But the initial belief, and for some outright surprise, that the Irish had somehow fallen off the usual suspects list in the aftermath of a grenade attack on the building housing the British Consulate in Manhattan last week was later dispelled by news from down the New Jersey Turnpike.
A man said to be active in Irish American political circles had been questioned by FBI agents in Philadelphia, just hours after the explosion.
The building, located at 850 Third Avenue was sealed off behind yellow crime scene tape after two improvised grenades blew up outside the building’s front doors in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning, May 5, which was election day in Britain and Northern Ireland.
Erik Robinson, a member of Clan Na Gael, told the Echo that he was visited by two FBI agents later on the day of the blast and questioned for about thirty minutes.
“They asked me about my political views, how I felt about Gerry Adams, the McCartney murder and whether I was a member of Noraid. I guess they weren’t quite Irish experts,” Robinson said in a reference to the strained relationship between some Clan Na Gael and Irish Northern Aid members that has prevailed in recent years.
Robinson said he was asked to account for his whereabouts at the time of the explosion.
Nobody was hurt, although the blast was big enough to cause at least serious injury to anyone who would have been in the immediate proximity.
The most obvious signs of the explosion were glass shards on the pavement and a full-length gash in the front door’s plate glass, roughly in the shape of Italy.
New York police and federal agents mounted a full-scale investigation but media reports refrained from mentioning any possible Irish connection, real or imagined.
One man, a Dutch citizen, was arrested near the scene just after the explosion and questioned, but was later released.
Denials of any involvement were issued by the Palestine Activist Forum and Jews Against the Occupation.
Both groups had supported a demonstration outside the building a few weeks ago, though it was not a protest directed at the British Consulate, per se.
Nevertheless, the preponderance of press coverage suggested that the British presence in the building was the spur for the attack.
The explosion did not deter a planned “British Election Night Party” at the consulate last night jointly hosted by Consul General Sir Philip Thomas, and the former London Times editor, Sir Harold Evans.
The explosive devices, so-called “novelty grenades,” were filled with gunpowder and hidden in a concrete planter just outside the plate glass doors of the office building.
The actual consulate offices begin nine floors above street level, where the damage was confined. The ground floor of the building is occupied by a bank and a sporting goods store.
The building is also occupied by consular missions from other nations as well as a number of multinational companies.
The front of the building was frequently the scene of Irish Republican demonstrations during the peak years of the troubles. But what was once known as the “long green line” has been almost entirely absent since the start of the peace process.
Still, one side of a traffic sign just outside the building’s front doors is still plastered with stickers demanding “British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.”
A day after the explosion, Irish language teacher Liam McNeillis was monitoring election returns in O’Neill’s bar, a few blocks south of the consulate.
“I guess it’s no longer a case of innocent until proven Irish,” McNeillis said with a laugh.
Veteran activist and radio show present John McDonagh took a more serious tone.
“I’m glad we were no longer considered the usual suspects. It’s been a while since there was a demonstration outside that building,” he said.
However, a hundred miles or so to the south, Robinson was a recipient of the usual suspect treatment.
“It was bizarre,” he said of the interview.
Robinson said he attributed the interrogation in part to a freedom of information request he had submitted to the FBI in an effort to secure a copy of the bureau’s file on Clan Na Gael.
Robinson said he had answered all the questions put to him by the agents but had called his attorney immediately after the interview.
A call to the FBI field office in Philadelphia had not been returned by presstime.

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