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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 13:04 GMT
Bomb blast in Birmingham
aerial view of Birmingham bomb blast site
The blast caused little damage to the immediate surroundings
An explosion that rocked Birmingham city centre is being blamed on Irish dissidents.

The blast happened at 2230GMT on Saturday, in a car parked close to New Street railway station, but no-one was injured despite the area being packed with revellers.

Police immediately ruled out any link to the 11 September attacks - saying a warning was given, but too late to deactivate the device.

We do believe it is a dissident grouping

Ronnie Flanagan

Chief Constable of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Sir Ronnie Flanagan indicated that the Real IRA was the main suspect for the bomb blast.

He told BBC's Breakfast with Frost: "Even though it is at an early stage, we do believe it is a dissident grouping - probably that group that is behind this.

"They want to demonstrate that they are still there."

Click here to see where the blast happened

Bomb disposal experts have sealed off a 1,000m area around the site, on Smallbrook Queensway.

It is believed that only the detonator of a device exploded.

A part of a car litters the road
A part of a car litters the road
Decontamination experts were also called to the scene after passers-by reported seeing white powder come from the car, covering nearby police officers.

But use of anthrax was ruled out. The substance was believed to be stuffing from the car's seats.

The blast came just hours after politicians in Northern Ireland found a way to rescue the peace process, which was thrown into disarray when David Trimble failed to be re-elected as first minister.

Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid said the Birmingham attack was an attempt to prevent the province from finding a resolution.

We are very relieved that there have been no serious injuries

Chief Inspector Ellie Bird
He told BBC's Breakfast with Frost: "Where there's instability in the democratic institutions then the men of violence will try to wreck this peace process.

"We saw it last night again in the course of the night in Birmingham."

Chief Inspector Ellie Bird, of West Midlands Police, said the explosion had taken place on a busy street at a time when many people were heading for nearby nightspots.

She said: "We are concerned this could have had serious consequences."

The blast caused no damage to nearby buildings and the car, which was not totally destroyed, was believed to have been an Audi.

Recent mainland dissident attacks
June 2000: Hammersmith Bridge, London
Sept 2000: MI6 building, London
Mar 2001: BBC Television Centre, London
Apr 2001 Hendon post office, London
May 2001: Hendon post office again
August 2001: Ealing, London
A man who parked his car near to the scene of the explosion just a few minutes before the blast said he had had a fortunate escape.

Paul Taylor, of Sutton Coldfield, said: "I have been told I might not be able to return to my car until this evening. The area was very busy at the time and I would say there were at least a thousand people told to evacuate the area."

Security in the city is being stepped up, especially with many high-profile guests arriving for the CBI's annual conference, including Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Birmingham was the target of one of the Provisional IRA's worst atrocities when two pubs were blown up in 1974, leaving 21 people dead and scores injured. The pubs stood just 150 yards from the site of the latest blast.

The BBC's Yvette Shapiro said forensic experts were examining the scene and debris to see if it could be linked a particular terror group.

"If it is the work of the dissident group known as the Real IRA it is very much a hallmark of their work," she said.

The Real IRA, who are opposed to the IRA ceasefire, are believed to be behind a string of attacks on the mainland in recent months, including a car bomb in Ealing High Street in West London last August. Seven people were injured.

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The BBC's Yvette Shapiro
"Police believe dissident Irish Republicans planted the explosives"
Chief Inspector Ellie Bird, West Midlands Police
"The damage that has been caused has been limited"
See also:

04 Nov 01 | England
Clubber tells of bomb blast
04 Nov 01 | England
In pictures: Birmingham bomb blast
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