America: Bomb at Alabama abortion clinic kills off-duty police officer

The fevered battle over abortion rights in America took a violent turn once more yesterday when a bomb ripped through a women's clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, killing an off-duty policeman and and injuring a nurse.

The blast occurred at the New Woman All Women Health centre close to the campus of the University of Alabama at 7.30am. Police officials from the university said the dead person was a male, off-duty police officer. The injured nurse had been working at the clinic.

It is a year since another abortion clinic, in Atlanta Georgia, was destroyed by two bombs that went off within an hour of each other. Seven people were injured in that attack. The case remains unresolved, although investigators have explored a possible link with the pipe-bomb attack that disrupted the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

The abortion issue was on the national agenda a week ago, when the US marked the 25th anniversary of the landmark Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that upheld the rights of a woman to seek an abortion under certain restrictions. Vice-President Al Gore spoke at an event in Washington in support of the ruling and of abortion rights.

There were early no clues yesterday as to who may have been responsible for this latest attack. A spokesperson for Operation Rescue, the most prominent anti-abortion group in the country, denied involvement, insisting that the coalition did not condone violence in the pursuit of its cause.

Because of fears that a second bomb might be detonated, Birmingham police moved to evacuate student dormitory buildings close to the clinic. "It felt like lightening had hit the building," said Lindsey Thompson, who was among evacuated. "It was a bomb," said David Stuck, deputy police chief at the University of Alabama. "They're taking all precautions they can in case there is another one."

As the FBI opened its investigation into the attack, members of the police team still investigating last year's Atlanta blasts were also on their way to Alabama. They will be looking for links between the two incidents.

The blast shattered windows at the clinic and left awnings on its street front in shreds. The force of it also rattled a second abortion clinic a short distance down the road. Nurses at that clinic said the impact was enough to send pictures falling from walls.

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