Tip-off helped to foil new IRA bomb attacks

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The Independent Online
Scotland Yard said last night it believed it had foiled an IRA unit poised to launch a bombing campaign in London. A tip-off from a member of the public helped police to arrest several terrorist suspects and seize a 'substantial amount of explosives, bomb-making equipment and munitions'.

Detectives are certain the seizure of what is believed to be hundreds of pounds of explosives thwarted an IRA plot to launch fresh attacks in the capital. Anti- terrorist sources said a man who sold a van to a cash buyer who acted suspiciously contacted police with vital information.

It is understood three vans were seized by police, at least one packed with home-made fertilizer-based explosives, first used in UK mainland attacks in April when bombs exploded in the City of London, killing three people and wounding scores more, and at Staples Corner, north London.

Sources denied reports that one van containing explosives was missing. Bomb components were seized in the raids but no fully armed explosive device had been assembled by the terrorists, sources stressed. Forensic scientists are examining the haul.

Police refused to confirm reports that five people - three men and two women - were being detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Those arrested are believed to have been staying at addresses in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, and Hanwell and Southall, both in west London. Police said they were still searching for several people and other vehicles.

Commander George Churchill- Coleman, head of the Yard's anti- terrorist branch, said in a statement yesterday that the arrests and seizures arose 'out of long- term operations' which were continuing. 'A number of people have been arrested and are detained under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act,' he said. 'Also seized is a very large quantity of material and other components used in the construction of home-made explosive devices. Other munitions have been recovered.'

Mr Churchill-Coleman said that because the operation was continuing and suspects were in custody no further details would be released. 'You will be aware from past events that the investigation of incidents and the implementation of counter-measures against Irish republican criminals is a continuing process,' he said.

He appealed for public vigilance: 'We would ask the public to report suspicions to police without delay. These suspicions may relate to purchase of vehicles, or the renting of accommodation, or unusual purchases, or behaviour,' he said.

A Ford van with tinted windows was seen by neighbours outside a west London home only days before anti-terrorist police stormed the building and arrested two women. Police watched the three- bedroomed home for at least three days, before smashing their way in on Tuesday.

Leena Pandya, 21, a neighbour, said: 'We saw two men go into our next-door house, which has been empty for months, and thought it was a bit suspicious. We thought they were squatters and we were going to 'phone the police. We didn't realise they were the police.'