Bomb plans laid months ago

Blast investigation: Vehicle used for attack on army headquarters was purchased back in June

The RUC yesterday revealed that the IRA had been involved in planning this week's bomb attacks on the British Army's headquarters in Northern Ireland as long ago as June.

Two people were yesterday described as critically ill following the two car bomb explosions within the base at Lisburn, Co Antrim on Monday. The RUC yesterday described the attacks as an attempt at mass murder.

The RUC detective heading the investigation into the bombings, Chief Superintendent Derek Martindale, said three vehicles were involved in the attacks. The indications are that the bombs were contained in two Volvo estate cars, and that the bombers made their escape in a Volkswagen Passat.

Ch Supt Martindale said the bombs had been placed in two car parks about 100 yards apart. The first exploded in the motor transport car park, while the second went off 15 minutes later outside a medical centre.

He added that some of those wounded in the first explosion had been further injured by the second: "I have no doubt this was a deliberate attempt at mass murder. They wanted to create the maximum ... threat to life. It is particularly sickening that they decided to delay the second explosion by 15 minutes, to further injure those injured in the first explosion."

The bombers seem to have gained entry to the headquarters by using a "passholders only" lane at the main gate. This has raised the issue of whether they used false identification passes. Almost 200 police are involved in the investigation of what is regarded as one of the most serious security breaches ever seen in Northern Ireland. Police are sifting through a large amount of video evidence from security cameras, while the Army is conducting a review of security at the base.

Ch Supt Martindale said one of the Volvo vehicles had been bought in the Lisburn district on 4 June, while two other vehicles had been bought on 3 July and 23 September. Police yesterday issued a photofit likeness of a man who purchased one of the cars.

In all, the three vehicles cost the IRA almost pounds 12,000.

Meanwhile, political activity yesterday centred on denunciations of the IRA violence coupled with appeals to loyalist paramilitary groups not to break their ceasefire.

The Taoiseach, John Bruton, accused the IRA of a cynical betrayal of the peace process, com- paring the IRA to the Nazis.

President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Anthony Lake, also appealed to the loyalists to show restraint.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, said he would not close the door for ever on Sinn Fein's possible entry into talks, but said that day had been put back. He said in a BBC interview: "If you behave like this, everybody perceives a threat that there will be more to come unless you deliver the kind of settlement the IRA and Sinn Fein want.

"I'm not going to say 'never and for ever', because I don't believe it's sensible to close doors for always. But, of course, they put it back, and make it a harder job to convince the rest of us that they will be sitting there truly on democratic and peaceful terms."

t The IRA said last night that Diarmuid O'Neill, shot dead by police in west London last month during raids that netted a ten-ton haul of explosives, was one of their members.

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