IRA suspected over store firebombs

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TERRORIST firebomb attacks in central London yesterday bore the hallmarks of the IRA, according to Scotland Yard.

Devices exploded without warning in seven shops, including Liberty in Regent Street, in the early hours, causing thousands of pounds-worth of damage but no injuries. An unexploded device was found at lunchtime.

Much of central London was sealed off, and anti-terrorist officers were called in to supervise a search. By 9am police barriers were taken down and roads re-opened.

No group has admitted responsibility for the bombs, which were thought to be timed to coincide with yesterday's visit to London by the Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds.

Last week a Royal Ulster Constabulary officer was killed by a rocket attack on his Land Rover, the first fatality from IRA violence this year. Two colleagues in the vehicle were injured. Earlier that night, in east Belfast, a soldier was seriously injured in an IRA attack.

In yesterday's London firebombs, a newsagent's in Great Cumberland Place, near Marble Arch, was gutted by fire. The other premises largely escaped with water damage from sprinkler systems.

The first alert came late on Friday, when police were called to the Going for a Song record shop in Charing Cross Road. Officers found an incendiary device, which was defused - but another exploded at the shop at about 2.30am.

An hour later, a series of fires started. From 3.30am for 20 minutes, fire alarms and sprinkler systems were triggered in the Top Shop and Hennes stores in Oxford Circus, Burton in New Oxford Street and Regent Street, and a shop and office block at Great Cumberland Place.

The device that failed to go off was at a Mister Byrite menswear store in Oxford Street.

A team of 30 firefighters tackled the Great Cumberland Place blaze, which gutted the newsagent's on the ground floor. At all the other stores, automatic sprinkler systems put out the fires before they could take hold.