A bomb exploded in a van near a shopping center Saturday, injuring more than 200 people in a whirlwind of glass and debris. The prime ministers of Britain and Ireland blamed the IRA.
No one immediately claimed responsibility. But the attack, just six days after the opening of peace talks in Northern Ireland, shattered any hopes that the IRA’s supporters would soon be allowed to join the negotiations.
Police began clearing the area 40 minutes before the blast, following telephoned warnings to news media and a hospital in this industrial city 180 miles northwest of London. A newspaper in Dublin and an office in Belfast also received warning calls.
The force of the explosion shattered glass a half-mile away, knocked shoppers off their feet, and raised a dense black cloud.
“I was thrown onto the floor and knocked my head against the wall. After that, everything seemed in slow motion,” said Sylvia Glen, 44, a store security guard. The blast perforated her eardrum.
Manchester’s ambulance service said it counted 206 injured people. Ambulances and private cars ferried the shocked and bleeding victims to hospitals.
A dozen people were seriously injured, including a woman in the last weeks of pregnancy who was thrown into the air. She and the baby survived the blast, said Richard Emmott, spokesman for Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Other people walked in for treatment, or lined up at telephones to let their families know they were all right.
The size of the bomb made it impossible for police to remove everyone from danger in the time given, Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Cairns said.
“The fact that we don’t have anyone dead is not to the credit of the IRA,” Cairns told a news conference.
Authorities closed the two main railway stations in Manchester for several hours, and sealed off the center of the city. Hundreds of fans are in Manchester for the Euro 96 match today between Germany and Russia.
British Prime Minister John Major suggested the bomb was timed to spoil Saturday’s Trooping the Color ceremony in London, the official celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th birthday.
But Irish Prime Minister John Bruton said he believed the Irish Republican Army wanted to distract attention from its admission earlier Saturday that some of its members murdered an Irish police officer on June 7.
The IRA resumed its bombing campaign in England on Feb. 9 with a huge explosion in east London that killed two men. Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political allies, were locked out of peace talks that began in Northern Ireland on Monday because both governments insist that an IRA cease-fire must come first.