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Police call IRA bombing 'deliberate attempt at mass murder'

Irish prime minister says IRA betrays peace hopes

Fire October 9, 1996
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EDT (2020 GMT)
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BELFAST, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Police on Wednesday called this week's car bombing at a British Army base a "deliberate attempt at mass murder" and released a computer-generated portrait of a suspected Irish Republican Army bomber seen driving out of the base shortly after the blast.

Irish Prime Minister John Bruton accused the IRA of a "cynical betrayal" of Northern Irish peace hopes.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the IRA admitted responsibility for Monday's bombing at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn. It called on Britain to allow its Sinn Fein political wing to take part in Belfast peace talks without the precondition of disarming or calling a new cease-fire.

IRA's 'message' to Major


The bomb attack was a message to British Prime Minister John Major that the IRA doesn't expect meaningful negotiations to occur prior to the next British general election, said Brendan O' Leary of the London School of Economics.

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Major faces an uphill battle in the election, which must be held by next May. Observers say the bombing by the IRA -- militant Catholics trying to end British rule in Northern Ireland -- helps make sure the next government knows it means business.


Moderates caught in middle

The IRA broke a cease-fire in February, setting off a bomb in London, but Monday's attack was the first by the IRA in Northern Ireland in more than two years. IRA moderates who had embraced the truce "no longer have a voice," says Paul Beaver of the publication Jane's Defense Weekly.

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Moderates on the Protestant side are also losing ground. Monday's bombing raised fears of revenge by pro-British "loyalist" guerrillas who have so far held to their own two- year truce. But some Protestant political leaders urge restraint. "Don't do what your enemy wants you to do," advises David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, political wing of the banned Ulster Volunteer Force.

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Bruton: 'Terrible triangle'

"The Lisburn bombing is a cynical betrayal by the IRA of the peace process," Bruton told the Irish parliament in Dublin. "The IRA have now completed a terrible triangle," he said, referring to earlier bombings and the murder of an Irish policeman in the Irish town of Adare.

Northern Irish police said the latest attack was probably planned at least four months ago, when the peace talks sponsored by Britain and Ireland were just beginning. One of the cars used in the attack was bought in June.


The computer portrait shows a man of about 40, with a black beard, dark hair and black-rimmed glasses, said to have been up to 5 feet 8 inches tall. Police stressed he was probably in disguise.

They said he was seen driving out of the base in a blue Volkswagen Passat, which had been purchased at a Belfast car auction on September 23 and which was found burning in west Belfast after Monday's bomb attack.

"I have no doubt this was a deliberate attempt at mass murder," Detective Chief Superintendent Derek Martindale told a news conference in Lisburn. The two bombs went off 20 minutes apart, apparently so that rescue services and people injured in the first blast would be caught by the second, he said.

Thirty-one people were injured, at least four of them seriously.

Correspondent Siobhan Darrow and Reuters contributed to this report.


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