Two bombs injured 64 people and scared hundreds caught without warning in the rush hour attack on the city centre. Small packages of about 2lb of high explosive, hidden in bushes, exploded at 8.31am and 10.09am. An Irishman telephoned a warning to the Samaritans in Manchester 11 minutes after the first bomb detonated.
Greater Manchester police said he had given an IRA codeword, and employed a 'familiar terrorist tactic' of giving deliberately confusing details about where a total of four bombs had been planted.
In the Commons, the Prime Minister voiced disgust over the explosions. Although he did not directly refer to the Manchester attacks, John Major said he had noted the poor turnout for Sinn Fein at the recent election in the Irish Republic. 'I think that reflects the disgust that is felt, not only in this country but also in the Republic of Ireland, about the way in which the IRA seek to bomb, kill and damage people's lives indiscriminately,' he said.
Yesterday's bombs were a continuation of the IRA's tactics of changing bombing patterns to keep the authorities guessing about how, when and where they will strike next.
The switch away from London to Manchester may, in part, be due to the recent series of attacks in the capital having made people there more aware of the terrorist menace and so more vigilant.
The bombers will hope that yesterday's attacks will disrupt Christmas shopping in the city. The IRA has noted the tremendous cost of the City of London 'blockbuster' bomb which badly damaged the Baltic Exchange and left insurance companies about pounds 800m out of pocket. It is intent on keeping up financial pressure by attacks which produce large compensation bills and affect trade and commerce. However, yesterday's bombs caused no serious structural damage.
The organisation's prime ambition for the next few months is probably to stage a repetition of the Baltic Exchange attack, which it regards as one of its most successful operations in Britain.
The caller warning of yesterday's bombs claimed one was in the Parsonage. It had exploded at Parsonage Gardens. None was found in High Street, Market Street, or Cathedral Street, the other locations given in the telephone warning.
But the second exploded at Cateaton Street, near the cathedral, where many of the victims were hit by glass and debris while evacuating the area around the first bomb. Casualties were treated at three hospitals, the only serious wounds being suffered by a 23-year-old man struck in the back by shrapnel.
The first bomb had blown out windows at two office blocks, including a branch of the Inland Revenue. Staff said a blast had shaken the whole area. 'The glass in the front just came billowing out,' Peter Smith, an office worker, said. 'There was a pause before people realised it was a bomb. Smoke came billowing out and you could hear glass and rubble falling from the buildings and hitting the street. Then there was just panic, screaming and people running in all directions.'
Most of the injured were near the Cateaton Street bomb when it exploded, 90 minutes after the first blast. Police had sealed the area around Parsonage Gardens. Evacuated shop and office workers were caught in a shower of glass and masonry. Some were hurt as they were thrown to the ground by the shock wave.
Bill Paterson, assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester, denied the emergency services had negligently directed people to the scene of the second explosion. Terrorist tactics deliberately set out to shift blame on to the police by giving ambiguous details and late warnings about planted bombs, he said.
Incendiary devices were planted a year ago in Manchester City Centre shops, and two IRA bombs exploded without causing injury in the city in 1978.
The Association of British Insurers wrote to Mr Major yesterday, warning him of the grave threat which terrorism poses to the British economy.