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Police Arrest Two Suspected Terrorists in London Bombing

By William D. Montalbano
Los Angeles Times
LONDON

Police arrested two suspected terrorists here Monday in the aftermath of an Irish Republican Army bus bombing that killed one person, injured eight and brought dread back to the streets of this gridlocked metropolis.

As the workweek started, tens of thousands of commuters sought - often unsucessfully - to find a way to work inside a huge swath of central London sealed off by police with the bombed carcass of the No. 171 red double-decker bus at its epicenter.

In the flux, it looked as if the bomb had detonated accidentally Sunday, killing the man who was carrying it and wounding a second suspected terrorist: He was under armed guard at a hospital Monday night. The seven other injured people included the bus driver and an engaged couple on a getaway weekend.

Scotland Yard had little to say about the two suspects jailed on security charges Monday morning, not even identifying them. Under legislation adopted during the IRA's 25-year war against British rule in Northern Ireland, terrorist suspects may be held for 48 hours without charge.

The IRA acknowledged responsibility for the blast and had a curt message for city dwellers in Britain: more to come.

The attack - the third terrorist incident in London in 10 days - rattled nerves in the capital. When a businessman forgot his briefcase on a bus Monday morning, police were immediately called and rumors circulated that they had defused a bomb. A secretary called for help after hearing a threatening message on her office answering machine: Police arrived in flak jackets to conclude that it was only a drunk bragging about a soccer victory.

In Washington on Monday, President Clinton joined in public condemnation of the bus bombing and similiar "cowardly acts of terrorism." The IRA ended a 17-month cease-fire Feb. 9 with a bomb blast in the Docklands area of London that killed two people and injured several dozen. On Thursday, police disarmed a bomb later described as 11 pounds of Semtex plastic explosive found in a phone booth in the theater district.

"I condemn these acts of violence in the strongest possible terms and hope those responsible are brought swiftly to justice," Clinton said in a statement issued by the White House. "We must not let the men of the past ruin the future of the children in Northern Ireland."

Police found a gun at the bomb site Monday as part of a painstaking investigation that included review of film from security cameras and analysis of the ticket machine from the bus, which might enable them to determine where the terrorists boarded.

The 171, which had started south of the River Thames and crossed Waterloo Bridge into the Strand area of hotels, restaurants, theaters and pubs, was 48 minutes into its run when the blast occurred at 10:38 p.m. Sunday night.

"The bus was not the intended target," said Scotland Yard anti-terrorist Commander John Grieve. IRA bombers often use public transport for its anonymity and as a way past security checks.

Police theorize that the bomb was intended for placement in London's West End when it exploded accidentally, killing its bearer and crushing the skull and pelvis of an accomplice. "We are treating this man as one of the bombers," an anti-terrorist source told British reporters.

Unintentional explosions, sardonically known as "own goals" in soccer-crazy Britain, are not uncommon: Frank Ryan and Patricia Beck blew themselves up in November 1991 while planting a bomb intended to explode at a military band concert.

IRA practice, followed in the giant Docklands blast and in the stillborn bomb Thursday, is to advise through a coded message that an explosion is imminent.

No call came Sunday, however, triggering immediate speculation of an accidental explosion. On Monday, the IRA called the office of the BBC in Belfast to say as much: "The bomb which exploded last night was one of our devices. We can say at this stage that we regret the loss of life and injuries which occurred."

After 25 years of violence, the IRA announced a cease-fire effective Sept. 1, 1994. It announced an end to the cease-fire shortly before the Feb. 9 blast, blaming the British government for the failure to get peace talks started. The bus explosion was the third successive blow to hopes that the cease-fire could be re-established.