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London police say bomb attacks were 'imminent'

As the British political party conference season opened yesterday in Brighton, MI5 and anti-terrorist police foiled what they believed were preparations for a massive pre-election bombing campaign in Britain.
One man died during a series of early morning raids by police in West London, Sussex and South Yorkshire, during which 10 tonnes of explosives were uncovered, the biggest discovery of its kind in Britain.
Some of the five men detained - whom police have not yet named - were being held at Paddington Green high-security police station. The others were being questioned elsewhere in London.
In the aftermath of the IRA's second massive setback inside three months Belfast sources last night said that the arrests and ex- plosives finds would trigger a massive internal investigation within the republican movement.
The young IRA man shot dead in London and at least three of the five men arrested by antiterrorist police were said to have either been born in England or to have lived there for some time. Another of the men is thought to have lived in Co Longford.
One man, in his 30s, is said to have come to the attention of the gardaí in recent times in this State. He is originally from Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh, but has been living in Clones, Co Monaghan, for some years.
At an industrial unit in Hornsey, North London, police found 10 tonnes of home-made explosives, 2lbs of Semtex, three Kalashnikov rifles, two hand guns and "an array" of bomb-making equipment, including at least two car booby-trap devices and 13 timer units. Police also seized two lorries and a number of other vehicles in Hammersmith.
Security sources described the Hornsey unit as a "one-stop shop" enabling the IRA to retrieve equipment and sustain a bombing campaign up to the British general election.
It is understood that as many as 10 police forces across Britain were involved in tracking suspects during a protracted surveillance operation lasting several weeks.
Since the IRA ceasefire ended with the bombing of Canary Wharf on February 9th last, four IRA bomb attacks have been thwarted, with heavy losses to the IRA of equipment and key personnel.
Aside from the setbacks in Britain, the gardaí also made major inroads into IRA operations with the discovery of a major bomb factory and storage bunker beneath a farmhouse in Clonaslee, Co Laois.
The London Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, said that the anti-terrorist squad had "frustrated an attempt by the IRA to carry out significant attacks . . . with the possibility, indeed probability, of grave loss of life". He said that the "imminent" IRA attacks could have occurred as early as yesterday or today.
British Airways last night confirmed that a member of its staff, believed to be an engineer, had been arrested after completing a shift at Gatwick Airport.
The Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, and the British Prime Minister, Mr John Major, discussed the implications of yesterday's events for the political process in Northern Ireland during a 15-minute telephone conversation last night.
Mr Major said that the discovery of the explosives "put in their proper context professions of peaceful intentions by Sinn Féin's leaders and speculation about a new IRA ceasefire".
As unionist politicians renewed their demands for the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, the Prime Minister declared: "It remains impossible to reconcile Sinn Féin's rhetoric for peace with the IRA's preparations for murder."
The Tánaiste, Mr Spring, said last night that the IRA activity uncovered by the police in London "would appear to be totally inconsistent with those in Sinn Féin who are advocating a peace strategy".
Speaking in New York, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Spring said that such IRA actions undermined the peace process in the North. "It has to be condemned in the most outright and straightforward terms", he said.
Frank Millar, London Editor, Irish Times, 9/24/96
and Jim Cusack, Security Correspondent
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