10 arrested in alleged London bombing plot
Police link thwarted attacks to Irish republican dissidentsJuly 10, 1998
Web posted at: 9:07 p.m. EDT (0107 GMT)
LONDON (CNN) -- British and Irish police say they have arrested 10 people allegedly involved in a plot to set off bombs in London during Friday evening rush hour, thwarting the attacks just minutes before they were to occur.
A senior Scotland Yard official said dissident Irish republican forces appeared to be behind the plot.
Police arrested two men near Blackfriars Bridge on the River Thames and a third in the busy Holborn district. The three, believed to be posing as university students, were armed with firebombs, police said. The head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism unit, John Grieve, said the men had planned to detonate the devices "within minutes."
Later, a woman was arrested on Oxford Street, one of London's main shopping districts, and a man and a woman were arrested outside the new British Library on Euston Road. It was not clear whether they were carrying explosive devices.
Earlier in the day, Irish police conducted raids in Dublin, Wexford and Dundalk, which is near the border with Northern Ireland. Four people were arrested, and police say they uncovered bomb components, false documents and two shotguns.
Based on information obtained in those raids, Irish police tipped off their British counterparts.
IRA not believed to be involved
While police have not identified any specific targets for the thwarted bombings, they believe that the suspects may have been planning to detonate the firebombs in London stores.
"This evening's arrests are the result of prolonged investigation into dissident criminal Irish republican terrorist groups," Grieve said in a statement. He said the London Metropolitan Police and MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, were also involved in the operation.
The term "republican" is commonly used to refer to Catholic groups in Northern Ireland that want to unify the British-controlled province, which has a Protestant majority, with the Irish Republic.
The best known of those groups, the Irish Republican Army, has been observing a cease-fire and helped push through the recent peace settlement in the province. Authorities said they do not believe the IRA was involved in Friday's alleged bomb plot.
Other smaller republican groups have refused to participate in the peace process. Grieve did not identify which dissident groups might have been behind the thwarted bombings.
Security alert disrupts evening commute
The arrests in London came during a security alert that disrupted the evening commute in Holborn. Police evacuated several blocks along one street, and one of the capital's subway lines was closed. Crowds were kept behind barricades.
British police officers, who are not normally armed, were carrying weapons during the arrests. No shots were fired, and no one was injured.
Witnesses to the arrests near the River Thames said police descended on the area brandishing guns and arrested two men within yards of each other outside a local supermarket.
Ann-Marie Wholey, 14, said she didn't realize at first that the armed men who suddenly leapt from cars were police.
"I saw them yell at a studenty-looking man, who was carrying a rucksack, 'Put the bag on the floor!' When he did that, they shouted, 'Get down on the floor. Get down on the floor,'" she said.
Her grandmother, Rosemary Wholey, saw one arrest when she came out of her house.
"There were police everywhere. It was a mad sight," she said. "Two police cars raced down the road outside my house and both crashed, one into a barrier, the police were in such a hurry."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, congratulated the authorities Friday after the arrests. Ahern said his government "will continue to underpin the peace process by tackling the terrorist threat from whatever source."
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