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IRA Claims Responsibility For Bomb That Killed 7 British Soldiers

August 20, 1988

OMAGH, Northern Ireland (AP) _ The Irish Republican Army today claimed responsibility for a bomb blast that killed seven British soldiers and injured 28 as the infantrymen rode in a bus along a country road.

″Ultimate responsibility for these lives rests with Mrs. Thatcher, her government and previous governments who since 1971 have cruelly misled the British people into believing that the IRA could be defeated,″ the IRA said in a statement to Irish media.

Victims were hurled into nearby fields, and their personal belongings and debris from the bus were scattered along the highway after the blast late Friday, officials said. The explosion blew a crater six feet deep in the road.

The IRA, which is fighting to end British rule in the province of Northern Ireland, earlier claimed responsibility for two other bombings Friday.

The army threw a security ring around the blast site and helicopters circled overhead as forensic scientists and anti-terrorist officers combed the debris for clues. The bus carried no military markings, and investigators were trying to determine how the attackers knew it would be in the area at that time.

It was the worst attack against British soldiers in Northern Ireland since 1982, when 11 soldiers died in the bombing of a pub in Ballykelly.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher cut short her vacation in southwest England and returned to London to meet with Protestant lawmaker Ken Maginnis, who called for a mass arrest of terrorist suspects.

Maginnis, a member of Parliament for the Official Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant party, tearfully described going to a barn near the blast site and finding ″a young man gasping his last, just dying. He had crawled into the most available cover and died over a bale of hay.″

Police Superintendent Wynnefield Hooke, who is leading the hunt for the killers, said the bomb was in a vehicle parked on the side of the road.

Hooke said he believed the bombers had hit the soldiers’ bus only by chance since two buses carrying army band members were close behind and were indistinguishable in the dark.

He said one of the injured was on a life support machine and a number of others were very seriously injured. The injured were suffering from burns, fractures, internal injuries and severe lacerations, he said.

The bus was carrying infantrymen returning from leave in mainland Britain to their barracks at Omagh in County Tyrone, 50 miles west of Belfast.

The IRA said its Tyrone Brigade, which operates along the border with the Irish Republic, used 200 pounds of plastic explosives in the attack.

Paddy Bogan, president of Northern Ireland’s middle-of-the-road Alliance Party, who lives near the scene of the blast, described the attack as ″a terrible slaughter.″

″The bus was a mess of mangled metal,″ said Bogan, who went to the scene with other local people. ″It was a miracle anyone got out of it alive. Mutilated bodies were stewn over a radius of 50 to 100 yards. I saw seven bodies. The faces of the injured were terribly cut and bleeding.″

Belfast police said 35 soldiers were on the bus. Initial reports said there were 38 and the British domestic news agency later Friday put the number at 39.

Northern Ireland Secretary Tom King, the Cabinet minister responsible for the province, broke off his vacation in England to fly back to Belfast for an emergency meeting with army and police chiefs.

Friday’s blast occurred nine miles from Omagh. The soldiers earlier Friday had flown back to Northern Ireland from leave, landing at the military section of Belfast’s Aldergrove airport.

Two other bombs exploded early Friday. One injured three police officers in Lisnaskea, and the other damaged the Mourne Country Hotel in Newry, Northern Ireland’s newest luxury hotel.

An IRA message to a Belfast radio station said the hotel, near the border with the Irish Republic, is ″a meeting place for members of the security forces and informers.″ The IRA claimed responsibility for that bombing and the one in Lisnaskea, 60 miles west of Belfast.

Also on Friday, funerals were held for a British soldier whom IRA guerrillas killed last week in Belgium, and for a Protestant grocer shot to death Wednesday in his Belfast store.

Thousands of people lined the streets to observe a funeral procession for Frederick Otley, 44, a grocer fatally shot by masked gunmen in his shop in the Protestant Shankill Road area.

In Knighton, Wales, more than 1,000 mourners attended the funeral of Warrant Officer 1st Class Richard Michael Heakin, 38, who was killed by IRA gunmen Aug. 12 in the Belgian port of Ostend as he stopped his car for a traffic light. He was stationed in West Germany but his license plate identified him as a British soldier.

Both the Irish Revolutionary Brigade - a previously unknown group - and the Irish National Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the grocer’s slaying.

Friday’s blast comes 11 weeks after an IRA bomb killed six soldiers in Lisburn, outside Belfast. Seventy-six people have died in Irish political and sectarian violence this year in Northern Ireland, mainland Britain and continental Europe, 25 of them British soldiers.

In 1987, 93 people died, three of them soldiers.

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