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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 20:58 GMT
Birmingham bomb 'could have killed'
aerial view of Birmingham bomb blast site
The blast caused little damage
The car bomb that exploded in Birmingham city centre on Saturday night would have caused "very serious loss of life" had the device detonated fully.

West Midlands police confirmed that it was similar in size to the devices planted outside BBC Television Centre in London and at Ealing Broadway earlier this year.

Police hotlines
Incident room - 0121 200 2552
Anti-Terrorism Branch hotline - 0800 789321
But this time only the detonator exploded, leaving surrounding cars and buildings untouched and up to 30kg of explosives intact.

It was "probably" the work of the Real IRA, the republican group blamed for the previous terrorist attacks in London, police confirmed.

Birmingham's Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sims said: "Had it (the device) fully detonated in that busy city centre on a Saturday night we would have sustained very serious loss of life indeed and serious structural damage to the city.

"This incident fits a pattern of events involving Irish republican dissident groups, probably the Real IRA."

Police tow the car away from crime scene
The partly detonated device may yield clues
The bomb was planted in a beige Audi coupe, registration number E303 TOV, and police are appealing for help in tracing its owners.

They also want to hear from any potential witnesses who were in the vicinity of the blast, which happened at 2239GMT on Saturday.

The device exploded 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.

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
The blast came at a time when politicians in Northern Ireland were rescuing the power-sharing executive from the verge of collapse.

But the head of the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist branch, Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry, said he doubted the attack was a "spontaneous" reaction to current events in the province.

"I doubt that it was opportunist. The situation in Northern Ireland could have been anticipated some time ago - the difficult political situation and the change of name of the police force in Northern Ireland."

He said the bomb appeared to be a home-made device, but police and forensic investigations would aim to establish its exact nature - and any links to a particular terrorist cell - over the next few days.

He added: "I regret to say that I have been warning for some time that whilst the activity since June 2000 has all been in London, it could happen anywhere on the mainland."

Click here to see where the blast happened

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

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.

Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid said on Sunday night: "Those responsible for the car bomb attack in Birmingham have absolutely nothing to offer but violence and destruction.

"We must redouble our efforts to protect those political institutions that can take us forward to stability through democratic politics."

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham said: "I thank God that no one suffered serious injury in the incident.

"This deliberate targeting of defenceless and innocent people shows just how evil terrorism is. No one can justify such actions. No one should support or defend them."

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.

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The BBC's Stephen Cape
"Police are certain they'll strike again"
West Midlands Assistant Chief Constable Chris Sims
"This was a very substantial device"
See also:

04 Nov 01 | Northern Ireland
Politicians create tense backdrop
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