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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Suspected IRA Bombs Disrupt Trains

LONDON -- Twin explosions tore up rail track and damaged important signaling equipment in the northern English town of Wilmslow on Wednesday morning, hours after a telephone warning from a man claiming to represent the IRA.


Greater Manchester Police said there were no casualties, but there was extensive damage and disruption to train service from Scotland to London and throughout northern England. Wilmslow, about 260 kilometers northwest of London, is a major signaling center for trains on the main west-coast line from Manchester to London.


Another warning was received about a possible device in the northern England town of Doncaster, and the station area was evacuated, said Kevin Groves of Railtrack, which operates the line. Doncaster is 250 kilometers north of London and about 95 kilometers east of Wilmslow.


Late Wednesday morning, police and bomb disposal experts were still searching the area around both stations.


The explosions came only a day after Scotland Yard Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon warned of the possibility of Irish Republican Army attacks timed to coincide with Britain's general election May 1.


Prime Minister John Major called the explosions "a two-fingered insult to democracy at the start of the general election campaign.'' He said he hoped the IRA and its allied Sinn Fein Party were not going to conduct their election campaign at the ballot box in Northern Ireland and with bombs in mainland Britain.


Opposition leader Tony Blair, whose Labour Party is leading in opinion polls, said if the IRA was responsible, it should realize that no British government will be intimidated by "such outrages.'' He also warned that the IRA's chances of joining the democratic process "diminished with every bomb and bullet.''


Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring said IRA bombs exacerbate the difficulties in trying to bring peace to Northern Ireland.


The day after the 1992 election, the IRA planted two bombs in London. One outside the historic Baltic Exchange building killed three people, injured 91 and caused more than ?600 million ($950 million) in damage. The other, at Staples Corner in north London, caused extensive damage.


Cheshire police said there were two calls from a man using a recognized Irish Republican Army code word warning of bombs. The first call, at 5:30 a.m. local time, was made to an elderly woman in Wilmslow who called police warning of a device at the local police station. The second was made to a hospital in the Greater Manchester area, warning of a device at the railway station.


The second warning probably averted serious casualties since more than 100 people had been evacuated from an area around the police station to a leisure center across from the station.


At 6:30 a.m., an explosion was heard at a signaling box on the railway line, about 350 meters from Wilmslow station, Greater Manchester Police Inspector Leslie Smith said.


"The area was cordoned off, and as officers were doing this, there was a second loud explosion just after 7 a.m., and that was near to the first one,'' he said.


Evan Morris of the Cheshire fire service said firefighters helping police at the scene of the first blast "were extremely close to the second device that went off on the track.''


Police estimated the devices were about 50 meters apart.