South Coast alert after attack on resort: Bomb found under Bournemouth pier fuels fear of seaside campaign. Helen Nowicka reports

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POLICE along the South Coast were on full alert last night after one resort was the target for an apparent IRA bomb attack, and warnings of explosions were received in two others.

Officers recovered a 'substantial' explosive device from beneath Bournemouth pier. The bomb may have been in place while 800 people watched a show in the pier theatre on Thursday night.

Before the discovery, the pier and four shops in the town centre were damaged in incendiary explosions early yesterday morning, which Dorset police said bore 'all the hallmarks of the Provisional IRA'.

A telephone caller claiming to be from the IRA contacted Brighton police yesterday with a coded warning. A third call of 'unknown validity' warned of a planned explosion in Torquay. All three resorts were targeted during a foiled IRA campaign against 12 seaside towns in 1985.

Officers from Scotland Yard's Anti- Terrorist Squad were in Bournemouth last night examining the device recovered from beneath the pier. The six detonated incendiary devices were also being scrutinised.

The most serious damage occurred at Maples furniture store, where two firebombs went off in the basement. Incendiary devices also ignited at Waterstone's bookshop and two clothes stores in the town centre. The sixth device damaged the west side of Bournemouth pier.

Bournemouth town centre was sealed off for a while yesterday as police searched for other explosives. A section of the beach was also closed as forensic science and bomb disposal officers examined the area.

Dorset's Assistant Chief Constable, Alan Rose, said that the device under the pier could have been fatal had it exploded. He urged holidaymakers and residents to be vigilant. 'We cannot discount the possibility that there are other devices, either of an incendiary nature or explosive nature, in the town,' he said.

Mr Rose confirmed that no warning had been given. The attacks are the first on the mainland since the attempts to blow up an oil refinery at North Shields, and a gasholder at Gateshead, both in Tyne and Wear, in June.

Officers are hoping video tapes from security cameras in the resort can help them to identify suspects.

No one was hurt by the explosions and last night no one had claimed responsibility for the incidents.

Part of Brighton seafront around the pier was also sealed off yesterday following the attacks at Bournemouth. Police received a coded warning saying explosive devices had been planted near the pier and in shops.

In October 1984, five people died when Brighton's Grand Hotel was devastated by an IRA bomb in an attempt to assassinate Margaret Thatcher during the Tory conference.

Devon and Cornwall police also launched a search around Torquay pier yesterday after receiving an anonymous telephone call.

Firebombs are among the IRA's preferred weapons. They are usually timed to go off at night in the hope that the fire will take hold before the emergency services arrive. Stores containing soft furnishings and fabrics are a favourite target.

Incendiary devices have been used extensively in Northern Ireland, causing millions of pounds worth of damage. They were first used in England in April 1991 when a holdall containing 20 firebombs was found at Preston railway station.

Last January incendiary devices ignited in four London stores in Oxford Street and the Strand during the first attacks of 1993. They were also deployed in the IRA's attack on the Warrington gasworks in February.

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