LONDON -- British officials warned military personnel Thursday to be vigilant amid fear the second bombing in the capital in a week signaled the start of a campaign of mainland attacks by the Irish Republican Army.
The outlawed IRA claimed responsibility for blowing up a British army van outside a recruitment office Wednesday, killing a soldier and wounding two other people, two days after bombing an army building and wounding seven civilians.
'While the British government persists in its continued occupation of the north of Ireland, the IRA will persist in attacking the British government and its forces in England,' the IRA said in a statement issued in Dublin.
It was the fourth mainland attack by the IRA this year. Thirteen people have been killed by the IRA in England in the past 21 months. The most deadly assault took the lives of 11 Royal Marines band members in September when the IRA bombed their barracks in Deal, southeast of London.
'It is possible that this is the start of a new campaign,' said Armed Forces Minister Archie Hamilton after surveying the tangled wreckage of the white, unmarked army van.
He urged all Defense Ministry employees and military personnel to take extreme care and inspect their vehicles, homes and mail for suspect packages.
'We must be aware that these people can strike absolutely anywhere. It is not necessarily a big army base that is going to be at risk. It could be a small office or any establishment of the Ministry of Defense anywhere in this country.'
Intelligence experts warned recently the IRA had built up its arms cache and troops for a renewed bombing campaign.
The IRA has conducted a decades-long campaign of terror aimed at ousting British troops from mostly Protestant Northern Ireland so it can unite with the Catholic Irish Republic.
Most of its attacks, however, have been staged in the province, where violence has become so much a part of everyday life that slayings rate but a mention on the nightly television news.
The Irish extremists blasted their way intothe headlines Monday by bombing an army education institute in southeast London, sending seven people to the hospital. The plastic explosive detonated by a timer was planted in a flower garden at the entrance of the building in suburban Eltham.
They followed up Wednesday by sticking a magnetized bomb beneath an army van, killing army Sgt. Charles Chapman, 34. His colleague suffered shrapnel wounds to both legs and his right shoulder, and his face was burned, Scotland Yard said.
The bomb was believed to to contain two pound of Semtex, a Czechoslovakian plastic explosive, and was triggered by a combined mercury-tilt and short-term timer detonator touched off by movement after a fixed length of time, police said.
The soldiers had just left the recruitment office and were driving in the van that had been parked in an alley all day, a police spokeswoman said. A woman who worked with them was standing nearby when the blast went off and was in shock.
Police were looking for a motorcyclist in a red helmet and silver jacket who was seen speeding away after the explosion.
'We are trying to find him but just for elimination purposes. He may be totally unconnected with the incident,' police said.
The attack occurred near a busy intersection close to Wembley Stadium in northwest London. Windows shattered in buildings along the alley.