Missile launcher in MI6 attack was new to UK

Kim Sengupta
Saturday 23 September 2000 00:00
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The attack on the headquarters of MI6 was carried out with a weapon never used before in either Northern Ireland or the British mainland, and makes potential terrorist targets even more vulnerable to attacks than before, police revealed yesterday.

The attack on the headquarters of MI6 was carried out with a weapon never used before in either Northern Ireland or the British mainland, and makes potential terrorist targets even more vulnerable to attacks than before, police revealed yesterday.

As a major upgrading of security measures was undertaken for public figures, government buildings and the party political conferences, it became clear that terrorists possess a large arsenal of the disposable and lethal RPG-22 rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Police recovered a discarded launcher at Spring Gardens, a park near the MI6 building in Vauxhall, south London, as well as finding remains of the missile which exploded against a set of eighth floor windows.

Detectives believe that a team of terrorists, probably made up of three men, used a grassy knoll at the park, about 300 metres from the building, to launch the missile. Members of a dissident Irish republican group, the Real IRA, are the main suspects.

The only other occasion when an RPG-22 has been discovered in the United Kingdom was at a Real IRA arms dump in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, on 29 February this year.

The RPG-22 Neto light anti-tank weapon is capable of piercing heavy armour and up to a metre of reinforced concrete. The damage to the MI6 building was limited because the windows were heavily reinforced. Other public buildings, including the Houses of Parliament, do not have such protection.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry, head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, said the RPG-22 was "a most undesirable piece of equipment in the hands of terrorist groups".

He added: "It is a lethal extension of their capabilities. It is a battlefield weapon. It is designed to go through tanks, and therefore it is fairly impressive against metal, and it will go through about one metre of concrete. It will go through most buildings."

The fact that the terrorists are using this type of throwaway launcher rather than more conventional permanent ones strongly implies they have a sizeable supply, security sources said yesterday. The missiles do not appear to originate from Provisional IRA arms dumps which the Real IRA had raided in Northern Ireland, but may have been purchased directly from sources in Eastern Europe. A weapons cache destined for the Real IRA seized in Croatia last month contained a large number of RPG-22s. Prices range from £150 to £220 per weapon. The one used against the MI6 building was Russian-made, while the one found at Dungannon came from Bulgaria, said Mr Fry. An older version, the RPG 7, was on sale in Kosovo last summer for the equivalent of £100.

The RPG-22 launcher is just 785mm long when carried, weighs 2.8kg and takes about 10 seconds to prepare and fire. It has an outer glass fibre tube and a simple pop-up sight, with a manual calibration of the target range, making it relatively easy to use. It fires a fin-stabilised HEAT rocket of 72.5 calibre.

Mr Fry said: "It is a portable piece of equipment, it's easily concealable and quick to operate. The skill necessary to use this weapon takes about 30 minutes. This is a very easily acquirable weapon. There are stockpiles of these weapons available for those who have the intent to use them."

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