Police appealed for help in tracing a pock-marked man who is thought to be the key suspect in Thursday night's Ealing car bomb attack, almost certainly the work of the Real IRA.
Police sifted through the area damaged by the bomb blast at Ealing Broadway, in west London, for forensic evidence. They traced the grey Saab 9000 that contained the bomb to a blond man, who had acne marks on his face.
The man, softly spoken with a Northern Ireland accent, is the best link the police have to the terrorists who are believed to be part of a small cell which has been responsible for seven attacks since June last year.
He purchased the second-hand saloon – registration E304 HPY – for £450 from a London dealer on 19 July. Police were checking closed-circuit television tapes to see if members of the bomb team were captured on film.
Previous attacks have included a car bomb on 4 March at BBC Centre, White City, the blinding of a 14-year-old cadet with a torch bomb at a Territorial Army barracks in Shepherd's Bush, and two bomb blasts outside the post office sorting office depot in Hendon in north London.
The concentration of attacks in west London led to speculation that the unit could be based in the area, which has a large Irish community.
It is believed the unit has been denied the use of IRA arms dumps, and has resorted to fertiliser-based bombs because Semtex, the industrial explosive, is in short supply. Steve Pound, a Labour MP, said the use of homemade, fertiliser-based bombs was the only evidence that the unit might be based in the west London area.
Sean O'Callaghan, a former IRA member, said: "Part of the reason why you can't travel far with fertiliser bombs is that the fuel oil that's used to mix with the diesel will seep through. So you can't carry them great distances."
Mr O'Callaghan, who repudiated the IRA in order to campaign for peace in Northern Ireland, said he knew the people responsible for the attack. Asked on BBC radio whether they lived on the British mainland, he said: "They don't particularly live anywhere. One of them has been missing from home for two years, and it is known that he is very heavily involved in the Real IRA.
"He was involved in the IRA. He is one of those people that split away, and there is absolutely no doubt that he is the main person behind all of the bombs we have had."
The Real IRA had less than 400 members and was "not very structured", he said. "The security forces in Britain and Ireland, particularly the Irish Republic, had huge success against them in recent times.
"They are very disorganised. They have a number of core people. The problem is what they have got is a couple of dozen people who know how to make bombs and know how to do this business. It is something they have been doing for 20-odd years."
They were also linked with "extreme" terrorist groups around the world, and obtained weapons from the former Yugoslavia, particularly Croatia. And they were "being supplied in one case by a man who is wanted for war crimes", he said.
"The horrible thing we are faced with is that there will always be Irish Republicans who will use violence until they get a united Ireland. It doesn't matter what the deal along the way is."
The alleged head of the breakaway republican group, Michael McKevitt, is in custody in Dublin, awaiting trial after an American FBI agent and three suspected terrorists were picked up in Slovakia last month. It is believed they were captured after MI5 members posed as Arab arms dealers.Reuse content