Firebomb attack at army museum linked to IRA

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A SMALL BOMB explosion and three firebombs, thought to be the work of the IRA, severely damaged a regimental museum and caused small fires in two furniture shops in the centre of the town of Shrewsbury early yesterday.

West Mercia Police and anti- terrorist detectives from Scotland Yard are working on the assumption that the devices were planted by IRA terrorists as part of their long-running campaign, although no claim for responsibility has been made and no warning was given.

About pounds 250,000 in damage was caused to the regimental museum of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and Shropshire Yeomanry in Shrewsbury Castle, a building which dates from Norman times, where two devices detonated in the early hours of the morning.

Police believe that a device on the ground floor was a small bomb, possibly made from Semtex, rather than an incendiary, because there was evidence of a blast which badly damaged showcases and shattered several windows. Another device on the first floor was an incendiary. Both caused fires which led to extensive smoke damage throughout the building.

It is believed to be the first time that the IRA has used the tactic of combining bombs with incendiaries, although it is possible the bomb was a badly constructed incendiary. During the current IRA campaign, incendiaries have caused extensive damage in concentrated attacks on shops in Manchester, Blackpool and London .

Shortly after the castle explosions, another incendiary caused a small fire in the Staks soft furnishing store in the town's Charles Darwin shopping centre, about 300 yards away. It was put out by the shop's sprinkler system but police said a large amount of stock had been damaged.

The fourth device was found in Wades furnishing store in the town later yesterday during extensive searches; it had caused a small amount of charring to furniture, but had extinguished of its own accord.

The centre of Shrewsbury was severely disrupted as it was sealed off for police searches during the day. The town's railway station was closed for a while and town centre traffic diverted.

Although the searches were completed late yesterday, police have warned the public and shopkeepers to be on the alert for more devices.

Geoffrey Parfitt, curator of the Shropshire Regimental Museum, described the fire and explosion as 'a disaster'. He put the cost of the damage at pounds 250,000, and said many of the relics involved were irreplaceable. The museum would be considered a 'soft target' by the IRA.

West Mercia Police, who were joined during the day by anti-terrorist branch detectives from Scotland Yard, last night appealed for any members of the public who had visited either of the shops or the museum on Monday to come forward.

'We need to build up a picture of events so that we can try and established when the devices were planted; people may have seen someone suspicious which would not become relevant until afterwards,' a spokesman said.