IRA Fires Mortar at 10 Downing St
Appropriately, prime minister John Major was addressing his war cabinet when three mortar rounds were fired at 10 Downing Street from a van abandoned in Whitehall.
In the Persian Gulf, British troops were heavily engaged in the war against Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard; at home the frontline encircled the war against the Provisional IRA . The latter was a war that showed no signs of abating. The IRA immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, adding that their operation was the result of months of planning, long before the Gulf War and John Major’s ascension to prime minister. This direct assault on the cabinet was a timely reminder that the IRA’s antipathy towards the British government had not evaporated since Margaret Thatcher’s reign ended .
Though three people were injured; no-one was killed. The bulletproof glass that protects cabinet ministers from such intrusions did not shatter. John Major , given the circumstances, was pretty sanguine; he adjourned the meeting to a neighbouring building and got on with the business of government – given some of the political broadsides he burdened while leader perhaps this assassination attempt was light relief. But this was only because it failed – the gravity of the IRA’s offensive was not lost on the security or the prime minister himself. He stated that the attack was not just an attack on the government but rather an attack on democracy itself.
Central London was put on lock-down. The Gulf War cast a martial atmosphere over the country, with security tightened at ports and stations. The mortar attack was becoming an IRA hallmark; RUC stations had been the subject of such attacks for years, some set off remotely, others by IRA operatives themselves.
Whitehall was left deserted. In an area normally heaving with tourists, the police had sealed the area as the investigation got underway into finding the IRA cell responsible. A familiar story during a dark, troubled period that appeared to have no end in sight.
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