SLIGO, Ireland -- Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Queen Elizabeth's cousin, was killed today in an explosion that ripped apart his cabin cruiser off the Irish coast. A left-wing branch of the Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for the blast.
Mountbatten, 79, a military statesman and hero whose versatile life spanned the rule of four monarchs, apparently was killed instantly.
His grandson, Nicolas, 25, also was killed along with the pilot of the boat, identified as Paul Maxwell.
The left-wing Irish National Liberation Army telephoned a Dublin newspaper, the Irish Independent, and said it had planted a bomb aboard the Earl's yacht, which exploded five minutes after it left the harbor in Sligo.
If the bomb claim is true, Mountbatten would be the highest-ranking member of the royal family to be assassinated in modern history.
The NLA, an offshoot of the provisional IRA, also claimed responsibility for the car-bombing death of British politician Ariey Neave outside the House of Commons last spring.
The Independent newspaper said the telephone caller had a Northern Ireland accent and identified himself as a member of the Irish National Liberation Army.
He said he wanted to make a statement about Mountbatten's "bomb death," adding "we did it. We claim responsibility for it."
The newspaper said the caller refused to answer questions and hung up after making his brief statement. Police said they were still investigating the cause of the explosion aboard the 29-foot cruiser Shadow Five, owned by Mountbatten and used by him at his summer home in Sligo.
Mountbatten was the fourth child of Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Princess Victoria, and an uncle of Prince Philip and cousin of Queen Elizabeth II.
Aboard the boat with Mountbatten were his daughter and son-in-law, Lord and Lady Brabourne, their two sons, and the dowager Lady Brabourne.
Moutbatten, the Earl of Burma, became the youngest admiral in the history of the Royal Navy when he was appointed Supreme Allied Commander of the newly-formed South East Asia Command in 1943 at the age of 43. He never quite outlived his own legend.
Among other things, Miuntbatten was a brilliant military tactician, linguist, inventor, author, athlete, statesman, hero and international trouble shooter for government's needing men above politics.
He was the last surviving supreme commander of the allied forces for Southeast Asia in World War II and the man who handed over independence to India. Later, he went barefoot to squat in the ashes beside Mahatma Gandhi's funeral pyre.
A favorite with the royal family and the public at large, Mountbatten was the matchmaker who brought Philip and Elizabeth together. He had raised his young nephew Philip from the age of eight when his own father was sent to Malta in 1929.
He was on vacation in Ireland when the blast occurred on board his boat as it sailed for Mullahgmore, a tiny fishing port on the northwest Irish coast 12 miles from the Northern Ireland border.