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Bomb Kills 11 at Ulster Rite for War Dead

November 09, 1987|From Times Wire Services

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland — A massive bomb exploded as hundreds gathered here for a Remembrance Day ceremony honoring Britain's war dead, turning the solemn event into a scene of horror and destruction, with 11 people dead and 61 injured.

Among the injured were 13 children, between 2 and 15. Many of the older ones were members of youth organizations such as the Boy's Brigade who were to take part in a wreath-laying and march as part of the observances.

The bomb exploded without warning in what was Northern Ireland's worst terrorist attack in five years. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast at the three-story brick community center where about 500 former servicemen, soldiers, security personnel, local dignitaries and their families came to honor service personnel killed in Britain's conflicts in the 20th Century.

Hallmarks of IRA

But the blast, according to authorities, bore the hallmarks of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, which has been seeking to oust the British from Northern Ireland and unite Ulster with the Irish Republic.

Friends, relatives, soldiers and bandsmen dug with their bare hands through the rubble of the community center in this County Fermanagh town near the Irish border, 75 miles west of Belfast.

The blast blew out one end of the building and the structure collapsed, trapping men, women and children.

Police said three married couples were among the six women and five men killed and that many of the wounded were badly hurt in the 10:45 a.m. blast.

A 14-year-old member of the Boy's Brigade said he was standing near the war memorial ready to lay a wreath when the blast came.

"I dropped the wreath and rushed to where the wall had collapsed. People were screaming and we did all we could to pull them out. At 11 o'clock we should have been remembering the dead, not digging them out," he said.

The Rev. Michael Jackson, who had been waiting near the monument for the ceremony to begin, said, "People started to scream and people started to run away--those who could--but it was obvious that many were killed instantly."

The extent of civilian bloodshed brought expressions of regret from the local branch of Sinn Fein, the legal political wing of the outlawed IRA.

Paul Corrigan, chairman of Fermanagh District Council, said in a statement that the party was shocked by the loss of life and added that Sinn Fein members "do not expect to escape the consequences of this explosion--even if the IRA were not involved."

But he insisted that the bombing should be seen in the context of the movement's fight for Irish independence. "We stand firm against those who will attempt to exploit the outcry for their own party political interests," he said.

Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, Tom King, said the device was a 30-pound bomb of homemade explosives. King flew to Enniskillen to survey the damage and visit the injured.

"The outrage has scarred the face of Ireland and there is no place on the island for people with this sort of depraved mentality," he said.

Switch to Rescue Duties

Members of the military and police in dress uniform, who had been preparing to parade, quickly switched to rescue duties.

Two uniformed men gently carried out an old woman suspended limply in their arms. Others heaved aside slabs of debris and hauled away large timbers.

A policeman comforted a survivor who was hauled out still clutching a red wreath destined for the monument.

"I saw people pinned under a collapsed wall. They had been blown against the railings on the pavement. They didn't have anywhere to escape," said Pat O'Doherty, who witnessed the explosion from his apartment overlooking the cenotaph monument.

Police reported that five Roman Catholic youths in Belfast were wounded by gunfire from a passing car Sunday night, possibly in reprisal for the Enniskillen bombing.

Authorities had canceled a memorial parade in the village of Tullyhommon, near Enniskillen, after police received an IRA bomb threat. There was no explosion there.

The Enniskillen attack was condemned by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II, who both attended the main Remembrance Day ceremony in London under heavy security.

"Every civilized nation honors and respects its dead," Thatcher said. "Every civilized country expects others to honor their dead. To take advantage of these people assembled in that way was really a desecration."

Dressed in Black

She spoke outside her official 10 Downing St. residence, dressed in black and wearing a red poppy of remembrance.

Queen Elizabeth said in a statement, "My heartfelt sympathy goes to the bereaved and injured in their distress."

Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey and Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, also expressed outrage.

The entire area around the memorial was cordoned off after the blast, and army bomb disposal teams moved in to check the community center, called the St. Michael's Reading Rooms, for other bombs.

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