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Missile Damages Britain’s MI6 Spy Headquarters, Causes No Injuries

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The high-security headquarters of Britain’s MI6 spy agency was hit by a “small missile” Wednesday night, causing damage to the building but no casualties, police said.

Alan Fry, head of the police anti-terrorist branch, said that no group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on the secret intelligence service but that Northern Irish republican splinter groups were among the possible suspects.

“Clearly, I have to keep in mind the capability of dissident Irish groups, but at this stage I would not be ruling out any other group who might see the secret intelligence service as a potential target,” Fry told reporters early today.

“The sheer nature of the work of the secret intelligence service must mean that there are other terrorist groups throughout the world who might see [its] premises as a potential target,” he said.

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No warning was given before the attack. Irish republican groups typically issue warnings ahead of bombings to give police time to clear people out of range.

Police sealed off the area between Vauxhall and Lambeth bridges across the Thames River to further investigate the blast. Road and rail traffic was expected to be disrupted through today’s rush hour.

MI6 is responsible for foreign intelligence gathering, and the high-tech headquarters is one of the most closely guarded compounds in Britain, much as is the case with CIA headquarters in Virginia. The modern building is a symbol of the British establishment and gained a high international profile in the opening scene of the last James Bond film, “The World Is Not Enough,” in which the structure exploded in a terrorist bombing.

Wednesday’s explosion was minimal by contrast. Witnesses described seeing a plume of smoke and feeling nearby buildings rattle before police, firefighters and ambulances arrived on the scene.

One witness, Andrew Preece, told BBC News 24 that he was driving home when he saw a flash of light coming from the top of the MI6 building.

“It looked as if it was internal from the center of the building but the flash of light was from the top of the building,” he said. “It was followed by a large bang and the ground seemed to shake and my car was shaking.”

Fry said the work of the MI6 was not interrupted by the blast.

A series of bombs planted in London earlier this year was attributed to Northern Irish republican splinter groups opposed to the peace process that is backed by the Irish Republican Army, or IRA.

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The IRA is observing a cease-fire, but dissidents are believed to be responsible for a bomb attack that damaged Hammersmith Bridge, further up the Thames, in June, and for a bomb planted at a west London railway station in July.

While apparently not serious, the MI6 explosion is the latest setback for an agency embarrassed by security lapses earlier this year. In March, MI6 and its domestic equivalent, MI5, were warned in Parliament that their ability to gather secret intelligence could be compromised after a laptop computer that contained classified information was mislaid and recovered by police two weeks later. News reports suggested that an MI6 agent left the laptop in a taxi after spending a night drinking at a bar.

A week before that incident, it was revealed that another laptop was snatched from an MI5 officer at London’s Paddington Station.

MI6 also has been hurt by the allegations of a former agent, Richard Tomlinson, that the agency is rife with corruption and incompetence leading to lost lives. Former MI5 agent David Shayler also has charged publicly that two serving MI6 officers were involved in a covert operation to assassinate Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Kadafi.

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