Police warn of car-bomb campaign over Christmas

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The Independent Online

Store owners, rail companies and water and electricity firms have been put on alert for an expected Christmas bombing campaign, Scotland Yard said yesterday.

Store owners, rail companies and water and electricity firms have been put on alert for an expected Christmas bombing campaign, Scotland Yard said yesterday.

"Tens" of dissident Irish republicans are believed to be operating on the British mainland and are expected to step up their terror campaign during the next few months, according to the Metropolitan Police.

Anti-terrorist officers said they feared a "butcherous" act on a scale with the Omagh bombing.

Last Thursday officers from the Met's anti-terrorism branch briefed representatives from shops, transport networks and utilities to be on the alert for dangerous packages and bomb threats. Assistant Commissioner David Veness said there had been more than 50 bomb threats from dissident republicans since last December.

The terrorists responsible are believed to be mainly from the breakaway outfit, the Real IRA, which is thought to have about 300 members. The Real IRA is also believed to be behind three bombing incidents in London earlier this year.

Mr Veness warned that the terrorists possessed weapons including home-made and manufactured explosives, incendiary devices and battlefield weapons from eastern Europe.

He said there was a real threat that a car bomb could be used. "The most worrying form of attack, and it brings back the spectre of Omagh, is a large vehicle bomb in a city centre with all the butchery that enfolds such an attack." Police have already intercepted one car bomb that was being smuggled from the Irish Republic to Britain.

Mr Veness added that he believed the Real IRA now had a "logistic toehold on the British mainland. We are probably talking of active operatives in the tens rather than the hundreds," he said.

This month's warning follows three attacks by dissident Republicans since June. On 20 September, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired into the MI6 building in Vauxhall, central London, causing minor damage. Police disclosed yesterday that several witnesses had seen a small man ride away on a motorcycle after the attack. The man was described as aged in his 20s, 5ft 5in to 5ft 8in tall, slim build with short dark hair.

Officers appealed for information from anyone who sold a motorbike of 125cc or above in the past six months and was suspicious of the buyer who may have paid in cash.

In the other incidents a device exploded on 1 June on Hammersmith Bridge in west London. On 19 July a bomb was found by a railway track near Ealing station in west London. Police disclosed yesterday that the unexploded bomb contained a kilogram of TNT explosive and a kitchen clock timer.

Anything suspicious should be reported to the Met's hotline number: 0800 789 321.

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