Two explosions and a series of coded warnings caused travel chaos throughout the Midlands and north of England yesterday. The IRA again targeted key rail and motorway links, in effect cutting off the North from the South for several hours.
Two devices exploded at Doncaster and Leeds, but no one was injured. The railway stations and city centres of Stoke-on-Trent and Crewe were also evacuated and two long stretches of the M6 were closed for five hours.
The attacks follow the pattern of recent incidents which the IRA plainly regards as highly successful exercises in gaining the limelight during the election campaign. A republican source yesterday repeated that the strategy was aimed at causing maximum disruption and maximum publicity coverage with minimum threat to life.
The source told The Independent: "It is the classic republican position - that bombs or disruption in England have more of an impact than it has in Ireland. You can see it is working because John Major is having to answer questions about it at his morning press conferences."
The comments suggest the IRA is aware that by issuing early morning warnings - yesterday's were given at just after 7am - it can dominate the election agenda throughout the day and force Mr Major to respond at the Conservatives' morning press conference.
A similar pattern was followed just before Easter when a small bomb was planted near Wilmslow railway station and in the first week of April when the M6 and M1 were targeted. At the end of that week, the Grand National was disrupted by a coded warning.
Yesterday's disruption cost millions of pounds in lost business. The bomb in Doncaster went off at 10.10am on a road over a rail bridge to the north of the town. The railway station was closed and the surrounding area evacuated from about 7.15am, blocking two rail lines.
The second explosion was at a relay cabinet containing signalling equipment near Leeds station car park just before 9am. No one was hurt, but the city centre was closed for about six hours.
Keith Hellawell, chief constable of West Yorkshire, said the warning call to Leeds was not accompanied with a code-word. "If this is a new tactic, and I don't know that it is, then it is a despicable action," he said.
Bomb squad officers carried out a controlled explosion at the station in Stoke-on-Trent to gain access to a main foyer area after a coded warning was given just after 7am. In Crewe, a telephone warning led to the closure of the station until late afternoon. On the M6, two sections, in Staffordshire and north of Manchester, were closed in both directions after coded warnings. Then at 8.15pm, Warwickshire police closed part of the M42 after a major security alert at the exit leading to the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre and airport.
A man was last night charged with the London Docklands bombing of February last year, which brought an end to the IRA's 17-month ceasefire. He will appear at Belmarsh magistrates court in south London today charged with two counts of murder and conspiracy to cause an explosion.
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