Car bombs strike British army headquarters

LISBURN, Northern Ireland (AP) — Bombers struck at the center of Northern Ireland’s security Monday, detonating two car bombs inside the British army’s heavily defended headquarters and raising fears the province could again become a battleground between the IRA and pro-British paramilitaries. Thirty-one people were wounded.
There was no claim of responsibility. Whether the attack was carried out by the Irish Republican Army or by another anti-British group might determine whether the province’s pro-British paramilitaries call off their own cease-fire — and send Northern Ireland back into retaliatory violence.
The first bomb went off without warning in a parking lot inside Thiepval Barracks, the main camp for the 18,000 army troops in the British-ruled province.
A second detonated 20 minutes later near the base’s hospital, apparently to ambush passing soldiers, medical staff and people wounded by the first bomb.
As flames and black smoke billowed from the blast site, soldiers and paramedics hauled off the wounded on foam mattresses. Some of the people injured in the second blast included medical staff attending to the victims of the first.
The army said 21 of the injured were soldiers and 10 were civilians — including the three most seriously hurt. One man was critically wounded and four received serious head, chest and leg wounds. The less seriously wounded included an 8-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman who were treated for shock and released.
Army forensic scientists estimated that the two bombs contained a total of 500 to 1,000 pounds of homemade explosive. Each left a deep crater in the pavement.
The attack inside what, until now, had been Northern Ireland’s most untouchable army installation deals an embarrassing blow to the British forces. Thiepval lies in Lisburn, a predominantly Protestant suburb southwest of Belfast, and is home to the army’s senior commanders, key officers’ families and its elite bomb squad.
Thiepval has a single entrance guarded by armed soldiers and security cameras, with every car requiring clearance — though most are not individually searched.
Among the army facilities damaged were offices, the base’s travel agency, the nursery and the chapel. The blasts smashed windows in surrounding civilian homes and at a hospital that is home to 40 senior citizens and multiple-sclerosis patients.
The Dublin office of Irish Prime Minister John Bruton said that “the barbaric bomb attacks” were “deliberately calculated to provoke further violence and bloodshed and (are) aimed at undermining the multiparty talks in Belfast.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Mike McCurry called it “an outrageous act of violence.”
The talks between parties in the conflict started in June with the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party excluded because the IRA has not held to its cease-fire. The talks have made little progress.
The IRA resumed its bombing campaign against British rule of Northern Ireland in February, citing the refusal of the British government to let Sinn Fein into the peace talks without conditions.
But the outlawed group had chosen targets outside the province, setting off truck bombs in London’s Docklands and in the northwest English city of Manchester, and conducting a mortar attack on a British army base in Germany.
The IRA phoned warnings before the two attacks in England, but not in advance of the attack in Germany because it was a military facility, which the group considers a “legitimate” target.
Another jeep bomb that destroyed a rural Northern Ireland hotel in July was blamed on the “Continuity” IRA, a group about which little is known.
Analysts said the identity of those responsible for the latest bombs may determine whether pro-British paramilitaries call off their own cease-fire and take revenge for the bombing.
“If it is the mainstream IRA then it’s a very dangerous situation indeed,” said Ed Moloney, a veteran analyst of Northern Ireland affairs.