Real IRA link to MI6 attack sparks fears of new campaign

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The Independent Online

A major upgrading of security was under way last night after police warned of further terrorist violence following the attack on the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, in London.

A major upgrading of security was under way last night after police warned of further terrorist violence following the attack on the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, in London.

Public figures and government buildings as well as the party conferences in the next two weeks will receive greater protection after fears that the dissident Republican group, the Real IRA, is intent on a mainland campaign.

The MI6 building at Vauxhall was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, possibly from a shoulder-fired RPG 7. No warning was given of the attack. It is the first time the weapon has been used in the mainland and intelligence suggests a number have been brought over recently from Northern Ireland.

Scotland Yard recovered half of an RPG launcher at Spring Gardens, a park close to the MI6 building. Detectives believe the rocket may have been fired from a grassy knoll at the park, over a railway bridge, at the MI6 building. A police spokeswoman said the launcher, "a dangerous military weapon," was being examined by forensic experts.

The attack, which was launched without warning, damaged a window, two panels and a section of the metal frame of the eighth floor. The blast-proof windows of the building had absorbed and negated much of the effect. But for the terrorists, striking at such a symbolic target in the heart of the capital was a major propaganda coup.

The appearance of the RPGs on the mainland brings a new dimension to the terrorist threat, said the police. The use of the weapons present less risk to the terrorists than planting bombs and allows attacks from longer ranges, and over obstacles. It also raises the risk of civilian casualties from missiles which had been designed to pierce armoured steel.

Officially, the police said they are keeping an open mind over the attack. But security chiefs believe that the hardline Real IRA, which broke away from the Provisionals and is vehemently opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process, were the ones responsible.

The group called a ceasefire after the public opprobrium which followed its bombing at Omagh in August 1998, which killed 29 people. But it is believed to have been responsible since then for a series of attacks in Northern Ireland and two blasts in London, at Hammersmith Bridge and a west London railway line.

Security will be tightened at the Labour Party conference next week in Brighton, where five people died in the Provisional IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel during the Conservative party conference in 1984.

But senior Sussex Police officers said that Operation Otter, which aims to create a "secure island" around Brighton Centre, will be strengthened after the MI6 attack.

Assistant Chief Constable Nigel Yeo said: "We cannot ignore the implications of last night's attack in London. Among other measures, people will see an increased number of road checks across Sussex."

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, who is leading the investigation, said RPGs "have been found in both the south and north of Ireland and similar devices may have been used here.

"This was an audacious attack in the busy heart of London and we are looking to hunt down whoever was responsible." Warning of the possibility of further attacks, he said: "We have a genuine threat of terrorism against a number of targets. The public must be extremely vigilant."

The investigation and bomb scares caused disruption to travellers in London as major roads around the building in Vauxhall were closed for much of the day and rail services, including Eurostar, were badly disrupted. Part of the Northern Line in the Underground was shut after a security alert.

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