An hour after the Irish Republican Army reportedly ended a 1-1/2-year-old truce, a suspected IRA bomb exploded Friday in a London business and media district. It wounded at least 36 people, blew windows out of offices and stunned two nations grown accustomed to peace.
The bomb in an east London underground parking lot partly destroyed a six-story building, damaged a subway station in east London’s Docklands area and rattled Britain’s tallest high-rise.
It also threw into confusion a 17-month struggle for peace in Northern Ireland. If the IRA is indeed responsible, the bombing could reflect a growing disillusionment that non-violent means could end British rule in Northern Ireland, a goal that 24 years of IRA violence had failed to achieve.
No deaths were reported in the explosion, just after 7 p.m. (11 a.m. PST). It was heard four miles away. People with blood streaming from wounds ran from pubs and offices into the streets. Some collapsed onto sidewalks
“The glass shattered, shelves coming off the wall, radiators coming off the wall,” said Lee Hickinbottom, who was in a nearby pub. “Women were screaming. It was quite panic-stricken.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Commander John Grieve, of Scotland Yard’s antiterrorist unit, said there were a series of coded warnings an hour before the blast. In the past, the IRA has issued such warnings before bombings.
Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political ally of the IRA, called the White House about an hour before the bomb went off. “He said he was hearing very disturbing news,” a senior Clinton administration official said in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity. But Adams made no mention of a bomb, said another official, who declined to give further details.
In Belfast, the Royal Ulster Constabulary said it would reintroduce heightened security measures, including patrols with machine guns. Within hours of the blast, police and troops were wearing flak jackets.