`The ceasefire is over': IRA bombers blast London

Dozens are injured in huge explosion near Canary Wharf complex
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The Independent Online
CHARLES ARTHUR

JASON BENNETTO,

STEVE BOGGAN and

DAVID McKITTRICK

Seven people were seriously injured when the IRA ended its 17-month ceasefire by detonating a large bomb in Docklands, east London. Firemen worked through the night trying to clear away the destruction caused by the blast, which devastated the area on the fringes of the Canary Wharf complex.

The bomb, which caused astonishment and deep shock throughout the British and Irish governments, exploded just after 7pm - an hour after a series of coded warnings were received by media organisations in Dublin and Belfast.

Sinn Fein's president Gerry Adams phoned the White House "with disturbing news" shortly before the explosion in London , a senior US administration official told Reuters news agency

Asked if Mr Adams had any intimation that a bomb might be in the offing, the official, who asked not to be named, replied: "Yes. He said he was hearing some very disturbing news and he would call us back." The official added that Mr Adams did not explicitly say that he knew that a bomb would go off.

According to Scotland Yard, the bomb exploded in an underground garage of a six-storey office building near South Quay station on the Docklands Light Railway. The station and surrounding buildings had been evacuated about an hour before the bomb went off at 7.02pm. A second explosion, caused by a gas leak, damaged a nearby office development, and hampered rescue efforts - as did fears that a second explosive device had been planted at nearby Heron Quay. The Canary Wharf office block, the tallest building in Europe, was evacuated as police searched for a possible second bomb.

The Irish Republic's RTE television and radio network said last night that it had received a statement saying that "with great reluctance", the leadership of the IRA "announces that the complete cessation of military operations will end at six o'clock". One man and one woman were last night in intensive care at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel, east London, after surgery. A further five victims were detained in the hospital overnight and said to be in "stable" condition. In all 39 people were treated at the hospital and another four "walking wounded" were thought to have gone home after treatment at Newham General Hospital.

The RUC said that it was restoring some of the security measures that had been relaxed during the ceasefire. That would include seeking Army assistance where necessary.

John Major - who discussed the crisis for the peace process with both President Clinton and John Bruton, the Irish prime minister, late last night - called on the IRA and Sinn Fein leadership to condemn "immediately and irrevocably" those who had planted the bomb. President Clinton last night condemned "in the strongest possible terms this cowardly act" as the White House disclosed that it was contacting all the Northern Ireland parties to urge them to continue with the search for peace.

Mr Adams last night said he "presumed" the IRA had been responsible for the London bombing. In an Irish television interview he said: "We need to keep our nerve. Those of us who have taken risks to put together this peace process, and remain committed to it ... Our efforts to build a peace settlement must be redoubled."

Pressed to condemn the bombing, Mr Adams said he did not have to make clear either his or Sinn Fein's commitment to the peace process. "The proof of that lies in the risks we have taken over the past years and on the fact that we were able to put together an opportunity for peace, which has not been responded to with the flexibility and imagination and generosity required by Mr Major and the Unionist leadership."

The Sinn Fein leader added: "That is not to say that the IRA - if it be the IRA that were involved tonight, it does appear that it is the IRA - that they don't have to take responsibilities for their own actions. Of course they do."

One eye-witness, Farid Berrezag, a 17-year-old computer studies student, who had glass embedded in his neck as a result of the blast, was sitting with his father in a car parked outside the Midland bank in Marsh Wall. "We were no more than 50 yards away when there was a huge explosion," he said. "My father was thrown forward and if he hadn't had his seat belt on, he would have been thrown through the window. I leapt out of the car and there was blood pouring from my neck."

"I realised my dad was still in the car and I wanted to go back for him. But I was restrained by the policeman who went for him. I haven't seen him since. The last time I saw him, the left side of his face was just covered in blood." His sister Leyla, 14, for whom they had been waiting as she went to the bank, suffered cuts and a broken leg.

Neil Parker, 16, was walking with his seven-and-a-half month pregnant girlfriend Samantha Herbert near the station when the bomb exploded. He said: "My girlfriend was knocked to the ground and she was screaming in pain.She was taken to an ambulance and checked out but she and the baby are okay."

The bomb blew out the front of two buildings which were said to be in a dangerous state. There were reports from police that there was a serious gas leak in the South Quay. The area remained sealed off early today and there were reports that some people may be trapped in the wrecked buildings.

An emergency number was issued last night for people seeking information about relatives who may have been injured: 0171-834 7777.

Terror returns, page 2

Leading article, page 20

Andrew Marr, page 21

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