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The BBC's Catherine Marston
"The blast was felt across a wide area"
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Alan Fry, head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch
"A small missile was fired..."
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Former British Commander, Col Robin Evelegh
"The Government has thrown away its negotiating position"
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Anti-terrorist expert Peter Power
"The balance of probabilities is we are now looking at a republican attack"
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Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
'Rocket' theory over MI6 blast
MI6 building
A large area around the building has been cordoned off
Dissident Irish republicans are the main suspects as police investigate a "rocket" attack on the MI6 spy headquarters in central London.

Click here to see location of explosion.

The search includes nearby railway lines running into Waterloo station prompting speculation the missile could have been fired from the tracks. There were no casualties.

If the intention of the attackers was to disrupt SIS's operations, they have failed in their objective

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook

No group has said it was behind the attack, which was felt by those in underground stations and in nearby cars, shaken by the force of the blast at Vauxhall Cross, just before 2200 BST on Wednesday.

The missile shattered an eighth floor window on the southern side of the building, home of the Foreign Intelligence Service.

Despite travel chaos on Thursday morning, rail services and roads around the area on the south bank of the Thames are beginning to run again.

Trains into Waterloo are now running although Vauxhall station is still closed.

Closed roads to re-open

Police have said the roads and railway lines closed about three-quarters of a mile around the site on the south side of the River Thames should be re-opened for the afternoon rush hour.

The missile struck just yards below sensitive satellite equipment on the MI6 roof.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry, head of Scotland Yard's Anti-Terrorist Branch, said the device was fired at the building from a range of between 200 to 500 metres.

Damage to MI6 building
The window was on the eight floor of the MI6 building
He said he was "keeping in mind" dissident Irish republican groups, but was not ruling out other possible perpetrators.

The device used to launch the attack was "possibly a rocket launcher", he said.

"Clearly the sort of weapon we believe was used in this attack is known to be in the hands of certain groups. They will be uppermost in our minds," he said.

"Certainly there have been finds in both the south and north of Ireland and similar devices may have been used here."

"These types of devices are available in places like the former Yugoslavia and Russia," he said, adding it was "impossible to judge" why the building had been targeted.

I saw a large flash of light coming from the top of the building which was followed by a large bang

Eyewitness Andrew Preece

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who has responsibility for MI6, said: "I have spoken to the Chief of SIS, Richard Dearlove. He has confirmed there was no damage inside the Vauxhall Cross building.

"I asked him to commend SIS staff for maintaining business as usual. If the intention of the attackers was to disrupt SIS's operations, they have failed in their objective.

Mr Fry referred to attacks which caused disruption in London during the summer.

In July, the Real IRA was understood to have been responsible for a bomb in Ealing, west London, and in June, Hammersmith Bridge was closed after a device was planted on one of the supports.

"As I have warned, we all need to be vigilant," Mr Fry said.

Police are conducting a search
Police are searching all areas around the MI6 building
He appealed for anyone who had any information, or who had witnessed anything suspicious at the time of the attack, to come forward.

Earlier this year, both MI6 and the domestic intelligence service were warned that their ability to gather secret intelligence could be compromised by recent security lapses.

Anti-terrorist expert Peter Power told the BBC the MI6 building was one of the most high profile in central London.

"If you wanted to make a name for yourself, get yourself back onto the front pages, why not go for something that's high profile and minimal risk."

He said there was growing evidence that it was a mortar-type device that was fired from several hundred yards away.

"The balance of probabilities, I think, indicates we are now looking at a republican act, very, very similar in more ways than one to the Hammersmith Bridge bomb a few months ago," he said.

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Anyone with any information about the attack should contact the Anti-Terrorism Branch on 0800 789321.

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See also:

19 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Dissident republicans: Threat to peace
21 Sep 00 | UK
MI6 attack 'was inevitable'
21 Sep 00 | UK
MI6 attack Q&A
27 Jul 00 | UK
'Bombings could continue'
06 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Hammersmith bomber 'known'
26 May 00 | UK Politics
Mystery of stolen Whitehall laptops
25 Apr 00 | UK
Spy guide on the net
05 Apr 00 | Europe
Analysis: Spymasters change focus
22 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Spy HQ overspend 'to be published'
25 Feb 99 | UK Politics
New MI6 spymaster named
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