IRA claims responsibility for bombing

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — The Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility Tuesday for the double car-bomb attack on the British army’s headquarters here, which wounded 31 and brought Northern Ireland back to the brink of conflict.
It was the outlawed group’s first bomb attack in Northern Ireland since mid-1994. In February, it broke a 17-month cease-fire with a deadly bombing in London; attacks followed elsewhere in Britain and on a British army base in Germany.
A telephone caller using a verified codeword told RTE, the Irish national broadcasters in Dublin, that the IRA committed Monday’s strike inside Thiepval Barracks, heart of the 18,000-strong military presence in the British-ruled province.
Prime Minister John Major said the claim showed the IRA had not changed. “It shows they still rely on terrorist violence and are indifferent to human life,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, telephone callers told news organizations in Belfast and Dublin that the dissident group “Continuity IRA” was responsible, but the callers provided no codeword to validate the claim.
The British government had already indicated it believed the IRA was responsible.
The bombings were “certainly consistent with a terrorist organization that declared an end to a cease-fire which it had proclaimed in 1994,” Northern Ireland Secretary Patrick Mayhew told reporters.
Whether Northern Ireland returns to tit-for-tat bloodshed now remains to be seen.
From Major on down, politicians appealed to the province’s pro-British paramilitary groups to refrain from striking back. The groups, known as “loyalists” have observed a cease-fire for two years.
“We must not let (the IRA) succeed,” Major said. “I appeal to all loyalists not to fall into this trap.”
Loyalists killed more than 800 Catholics during a 25-year period, a campaign they say pushed the IRA to stop its own offensive in September 1994.
A month later, the loyalist Ulster Defense Association and Ulster Volunteer Force, both rooted in militant Protestant areas, laid down their guns. Some members now feel obligated to return to eye-for-an-eye tactics.
“There’s still a chance we can step back from this, but in realistic terms, it’s a slim chance,” said David Ervine, who leads an Ulster Volunteer Force-linked party in peace talks
He urged the pro-British groups not to be provoked into action by the IRA. “The loyalists must not now do what their enemy wants them to do,” Ervine said. “Don’t do it.”
Loyalists didn’t strike back after two earlier IRA-style attacks in Northern Ireland were claimed instead by “Continuity IRA,” which is believed to include disgruntled IRA members.
In the first attack in July, an 800-pound jeep bomb destroyed a rural hotel. Last month, a British army bomb squad defused a 250-pound car bomb abandoned near Belfast’s bustling shopping district.
The latest strike, in which two explosives-laden vehicles were driven past unwitting guards into Northern Ireland’s most heavily guarded military installation, left experts assuming it had to be the IRA.
“To get into the nerve center of the British army and leave behind not one but two massive bombs and get away with it is, by any standard, a massive breach of security. No ordinary Joe could have pulled this off,” said Col. Mike Dewar, a former army veteran in Northern Ireland and an anti-terrorism expert.
Of the 21 soldiers and 10 civilian employees wounded, five soldiers and three civilians remained in Belfast hospitals Tuesday. The most seriously wounded soldier has a broken skull, burns over half his body and a mangled arm that may be amputated.
“Our general feeling was ‘Here we go again’,” said Dr. Laurence Rocke, one of the tired-eyed surgeons treating victims at west Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital. “All we can do is sit back and wait for what happens next.”
Before the IRA claimed responsibility, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said such bloodshed was “regrettable” but inevitable unless his IRA-allied party was admitted to ongoing peace talks.
Nine local parties and the British and Irish governments began the talks in June.