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Nail Bomb Rips Through 2nd Ethnic District in London

April 25, 1999|MARJORIE MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONDON — For the second Saturday in a row, a nail bomb exploded in one of London's ethnic street markets, wounding at least five people, in what police termed a race crime.

Police officials confirmed that the bomb in the predominantly Bangladeshi Brick Lane district of east London was similar to the crude device that exploded the previous Saturday in Brixton, which has a large black population. Thirty-nine people were wounded in that attack.

A white supremacist group calling itself Combat 18 claimed responsibility for the Brick Lane attack, as it had for the Brixton bomb, which sprayed 4-inch nails and shrapnel into a crowd of afternoon shoppers.

But three other racist groups also claimed to have carried out the Brixton bombing.

In both attacks, police have ruled out the Irish Republic Army and said they doubted the involvement of Serbian extremists opposed to Britain's participation in NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia.

"I am linking the crimes and I am looking at this as a race crime," Alan Fry, a deputy police commissioner, said at the scene Saturday night.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, attending NATO's 50th anniversary celebration in Washington, condemned the attack and vowed to pursue the bombers.

"These things are outrageous and we will not tolerate them. We will make every effort to find out those responsible and bring them to justice," Blair said.

Home Secretary Jack Straw said he was "appalled by this second evil act of malicious violence. The sick perpetrators of this crime are obviously aiming to injure completely innocent people at random."

Last week, posters showing an X-ray of a child's head with a nail lodged in the skull--a 2-year-old victim of the Brixton bombing--were plastered around south London seeking information on that attack. Police investigators had reenacted that crime just hours before they were called to the site of the Brick Lane explosion.

Police said there was no warning before the Brick Lane bombing, although residents said the neighborhood had been beset by rumors throughout the week that it would be the next target.

The bomb was packed into an athletic bag and exploded in the trunk of a car outside the Brick Lane community police station, which was closed at the time.

There were conflicting reports on the 6 p.m. blast. Police at the scene said a man apparently had found the bag and was trying to deliver it to police in his car when the device went off. But witnesses reported seeing a man running toward a car and placing the bag in the trunk moments before the explosion.

The blast destroyed the car, blew out windows of nearby buildings and sprayed the area with shrapnel.

Long after the explosion, residents gathered behind police lines in shock and fear for the future of their neighborhood, popular for its curry houses and colorful street market.

Security experts and ethnic community leaders say they are convinced that these are racially motivated attacks by a far-right group.

"There will be deep concern in minority communities across the country," said Claude Moraes, leader of the Commission for Racial Equality. "The terror that will be caused is inescapable now."

Political leaders say the bombs could be retribution for a report issued by a government-appointed commission in February that accused London police of "racism and incompetence" for failing to bring to justice the white suspects in the 1993 killing of an 18-year-old black student, Stephen Lawrence.

"It is obvious this is part of the backlash against the Lawrence inquiry," said Oona King, a member of Parliament from the area.

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