Real IRA car bomb 'would have devastated city centre'

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The Independent Online

A dissident republican plot to wreak carnage in the centre of Birmingham failed when a car packed with home-made explosives failed to detonate properly, police said yesterday.

Senior officers blamed the Real IRA for the attack on Saturday which marked a new phase in the group's mainland bombing campaign and would have caused "very serious loss of life" if it had gone to plan.

Police said the bomb was about the same size as the 88lb device that exploded in Ealing, west London, in August, injuring 11 people.

The blast, just after 10.30pm, was the eighth attack suspected to have been carried out by the group on mainland targets since February last year. It was the first outside London.

Nobody was injured in the attack, which came hours after a breakthrough in the political crisis threatening to derail the peace process. The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, seems assured of re-election as Northern Ireland's First Minister today after the weekend decision of a small moderate party to come to his aid. The Alliance party agreed to redesignate two of its five Belfast Assembly members to make up the shortfall in Mr Trimble's support in the Assembly.

The bomb's detonator exploded in the back of a Audi car in the centre of the city close to the scene of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, which killed 21 people.

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sims, of West Midlands Police, said a series of warnings that were "ambiguous and difficult to interpret" were given 30 minutes before the explosion. As with the Ealing bomb, there was not enough time to make the device safe or clear people from the area.

Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry, the head of the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist squad, said he believed the attack was well-planned rather than an opportunist strike linked to the political crisis and the birth of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Security was already tight in the city to mark the start of the CBI annual conference where Tony Blair is due to deliver a speech today.