MI6 headquarters hit by missile
LONDON (Reuters) Police combed an area of central London on Thursday after the MI6 spy headquarters was hit by a small missile believed to have been fired from a rocket launcher.
The projectile struck the eighth floor of the building on Wednesday night, causing slight damage but no injuries. It may have been the work of renegade Irish paramilitaries opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland, police said.
Special police teams in dark blue boiler suits rooted through dustbins, searched a park near Vauxhall Rail station and conducted a »fingertip« search of the railway line for tell-tale signs of a missile attack.
»It was possibly a rocket launcher the type I don't know,« said Alan Fry, head of the police's anti- terrorist branch. »I cannot rule out dissident Irish republican groups.«
A thorough forensic examination of the inside of the MI6 headquarters on the south bank of the Thames and the surrounding area and witness interviews were the best way of finding those responsible, Fry added, appealing for witnesses to come forward.
One witness said he heard an explosion as he passed the scene in his car, adding: »I was shaking. My car was shaking.«
The futuristic MI6 building is already famous for having featured in the last James Bond film »The World is not Enough«, where it exploded in the opening scene.
But in Wednesday's real-life attack, the damage was limited to a smashed window.
While the damage was minimal, the fact that an attacker could hit MI6 headquarters with a shoulder- launched missile from between 200 and 500 metres raised questions about security, political sources said.
REAL IRA BLAMED FOR ATTACK
No warning had been given and no group has claimed responsibility but experts pointed at the Real IRA, a renegade republican group behind the 1998 Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people in Northern Ireland's worst single paramilitary attack.
»It does look like this has all the hallmarks of the Real IRA. They have access to weapons including rocket propelled grenades,« defence expert Paul Beaver told Sky Television.
Police on both sides of the Irish Sea believe the Real IRA which has weaponry smuggled from Croatia has an »active service unit« in London that staged attacks on a river bridge and a rail track in the capital over the summer.
»Security sources were expecting further attacks because the two attacks in June and July proved beyond doubt that they had a unit there,« said Tom Brady, security editor of Dublin's Irish Independent newspaper.
Northern Irish paramilitaries have a long history of bomb attacks in Britain. In 1991, the Irish Republican Army, who are now observing a ceasefire, attacked the prime minister's Downing Street office with home- made mortars launched from a van parked nearby.
The latest security embarrassment comes at a time when Prime Minister Tony Blair has been rocked by massive protests by truckers over the price of fuel and the ruling Labour party has been battered by slumping opinion poll ratings.
London drivers faced further chaos as their drive into work was disrupted by police cordons and more of the same was the unhappy prospect for the evening.
Even the Queen was late for an official engagement in London due to the traffic jams.
MI6, which deals with foreign intelligence, is the responsibility of the Foreign Office. The domestic intelligence service, MI5, is the responsibility of the Home Office.