London grinds to a halt as IRA bomb threats spread

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The Independent Online
Bomb warnings telephoned to police yesterday afternoon and believed to be from the IRA brought central London to a standstill, causing extreme transport congestion.

Five mainline railway stations were evacuated, stretches of four Underground lines were suspended and King's Cross Underground station - arguably the city's busiest with 10,000 passengers passing through it each weekday evening rush hour - was cleared after warnings were received at 3.15pm. Experts combed the stations for suspect devices.

Although police would not confirm whether the warnings contained a codeword, it looked like the latest in the IRA's campaign to cause maximum disruption in the lead-up to the general election.

Earlier yesterday, police officers met to review the terrorist attacks and alerts which caused transport chaos twice in the past 10 days.

Following more searches, the M6 was reopened just before 3pm yesterday after a 30-hour closure estimated to have cost industry pounds 70m. The AA said the planting of two bombs on the M6, later claimed by the IRA, and two hoax devices on the M1 led to "the worst incidence of traffic congestion seen in this country". The security operation, which began at 8am on Thursday, is believed to have disrupted the journeys of almost a million motorists.

John Grieve, National Co- ordinator for Anti-Terrorism, and members of his Metropolitan Police team met specialist officers from the North-west and Midlands to plan against more attacks on the transport network. Business leaders said that the cost of the motorway disruption ran at about pounds 2.5m an hour. Every day 180,000 drivers, including 77,000 lorries, use the three stretches of the M6, M1 and M5 that were closed.

The knock-on effect of taking this traffic off the motorways was felt across the Midlands. Tony Bradley, policy director of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said: "The effects will be mainly felt by the freight industry and distributors but also right across the country. This is the crossroads and the most important link of Britain's motorway network and I'm a little surprised this hasn't happened earlier."

Geoff Dossetter, of the Freight Traffic Association, said large lorries cost pounds 1 a mile to run, so if they have to make a 100-mile detour on unsuitable roads, costs escalate. "Modern life is delivered on the back of a lorry, so this has been mind- numbingly horrendous," he said.

r Police in the Irish Republic discovered a second underground firing range hidden in woodland at an IRA training camp in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland, writes Alan Murdoch

The tunnels were found two miles into a forest during a four-week Garda search backed by Irish Army soldiers in the Knockatallon area, near the village of Scotstown.

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