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Explosion Rips Through Bus in Central London

February 19, 1996

LONDON (AP) _ An explosion tore through a double-decker bus in central London on Sunday night, killing one person and showering a street with shards of glass and twisted metal. Eight other people were injured.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion fell on the Irish Republican Army, which broke its 17-month cease-fire nine days ago with a truck bomb that devastated a London business district, killing two people and wounding scores.

A second bomb was defused in London’s theater district last week. The IRA said it had planted that device.

Police said they received no warning before Sunday night’s blast. Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch said it was caused by an ``improvised high-explosive device.″ They would not elaborate.

Police said a body was discovered in the burned-out wreckage of the bus early Monday by anti-terrorist branch officers. ``We are not prepared at this stage to speculate whether the body is that of a male or a female,″ a Scotland Yard spokesman said.

Eight people were injured, four seriously, and there were also a number of ``walking wounded,″ police said.

The bus exploded outside the Waldorf Hotel near Covent Garden, an area that would have been filled with theatergoers on any other night but Sunday, when most London stages are dark.

The blast destroyed most of the top deck of the bus and much of the lower deck, its windows blown out, was blackened by fire. Sections of the red roof lay in the street. There was little damage to surrounding buildings, including a Citibank branch.

Bleeding people, some in shock, lay in the street or ran in horror. Passersby rushed to the scene to help.

``I was walking down the road and I saw a big white flash in the sky,″ said a witness, Anthony Yates, 26. ``I looked and then I saw a double-decker bus but there was nothing left of it, it was completely blown to pieces.″

He said that a taxi drove into the bus, and that a nearby bank building was badly hit.

``The bus driver and the taxi driver both looked dead,″ he continued. ``There’s a guy lying outside the bus saying `my legs, my legs.′ There was another guy with blood coming from his jaw.″

Lawyer Raymond Levy was in his car only 30 feet from the blast.

``I thought there was only the bus driver on board and when I got out of the car and got to the bus, he had got out but there were flames everywhere,″ Levy said. ``The engine was still running and I was very worried that the petrol would explode.″

With the help of a cab driver they opened the hood of the bus and turned off the engine, he said

``The bus driver was the only person that I saw injured and the emergency services were on the scene within about two minutes, ″ he said.

Mark Johnson, 25, from Toronto, who was with friends in a pub on the Strand, said he heard ``heard a very loud explosion and a very loud bang.″

``We were all in a complete state of panic. We were crouching down away from the windows. We ran outside and asked the bar manager to call the police and ambulance.

``We knew immediately what had happened. We were all saying `Oh my God, oh my God.′ I don’t know where all this hatred comes from.″

Johnson said that many people had rushed to help the injured. He said that he and his friends left the area because they were afraid of further explosions.

``I saw one woman who looked severely injured, she was lying in a pool of her own blood, there was blood on her head. She was motionless,″ Johnson said.

Five wounded men and one woman were admitted to St. Thomas’s Hospital. Three with minor injuries were released but three had ``significant″ head injuries. Spokeswoman Jenny Reid said the woman and two men who were in the bus at the time of the blast were still hospitalized.

Two of the wounded were taken to University College Hospital. One, a middle-aged man, was in intensive care with chest injuries, in serious but stable condition, a spokesman said.

Several hours before the blast, Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party, appealed for talks with British Prime Minister John Major.

``At this very dangerous and this very risky phase of our struggle we offer the hand of friendship to John Major. We say to John Major, `Pull back from the abyss’,″ Adams told about 1,500 supporters in Catholic west Belfast.

``Don’t see our hand of friendship as a sign of weakness,″ he added. ``It is a sign of strength.″

Adams maintains that the IRA decision to end its 17-month cease-fire came as a surprise to him. But like the IRA, he blames Major for not moving the peace process quickly enough.

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