LONDON -- Two bombs planted by the outlawed Irish Republican Army exploded at railway stations Monday, including one hidden in a trash bin that killed one person and wounded 40 others in a morning rush-hour attack that closed mainline rail stations and severely disrupted travel.
The IRA, in a statement issued by the Republican Office in Dublin, said it did not intend to cause civilian casualties, which it blamed on security officials for refusing to act on IRA warnings.
Before a bomb exploded in a trash bin at Victoria Station during the morning rush hour, a caller with an Irish accent told authorities, 'We are the Irish Republican Army. Bombs to go off in all mainline stations in 45 minutes,' police said.
Three hours earlier a bomb exploded in the nearly empty Paddington Station, causing some damage but no injuries.
'The cynical decision of the senior security personnel not to evacuate railway stations named in secondary warnings, even three hours after the warning device had exploded at Paddington in the early hours of this morning, was directly responsible for the casualties at Victoria,' the IRA statement said.
'All future warnings should be acted upon.'
A Scotland Yard spokesman said the IRA claim was taken as genuine.
'The fact that they could blame British police and British authorities for the casualties simply beggars belief,' he said. 'The reason for the casualties is those who planted the bomb.'
The deadly bombing was the first random IRA attack on civilians on the mainland in more than seven years. The blasts came 11 days after the IRA mounted a mortar attack against Prime Minister John Major's residence as the war cabinet met. Four people were slightly wounded in the attack, but no officials were hurt.
Cmdr. George Churchill-Coleman, chief of Scotland Yard's anti- terrorism unit, said the telephone warning, which came 40 minutes before the Victoria bomb detonated, had been too late and too vague. Train stations were not cleared because police were not convinced the call was genuine and were reluctant to inconvenience commuters, he said before the IRA had issued its statement.
At least 19 false calls were received after the first explosion, which prompted British transport Police to begin a search of stations, he said.
The commander said those responsible for planting the bomb knew there was not sufficient time to find and defuse it.
'There isn't very much doubt at all that this callous, criminal act was committed by the provisional IRA,' Churchihll-Coleman told a news conference.
'We do regret the loss of life and injuries today, but we have to make very firm decisions as to when to shut stations and when in fact to keep them open and not bring London to a standstill,' said Ian McGregor of the British Transport Police. About six hoax threats against the transportation network are received each day, he said.
Another bomb warning that closed Heathrow Airport for more than 2 hours proved to be a hoax, a Scotland Yard spokeswoman said. Incoming flights were diverted to other airports, and travelers were evacuated from all four terminals at Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport.
The last IRA attack against civilians on mainland Britain was in 1983 when a car bomb exploded outside Harrods department store a week before Christmas, killing six people and wounding nearly 100. The extremist group, which seeks to end British rule over Northern Ireland, had stopped its mainland campaign against civilian targets after public support plummeted.
The explosion tore through Victoria Station at 7:40 a.m. causing serious casualties and structural damage as thousands of commuters rushed from their trains to work. The blast was in the main concourse near public phones and self-service ticket machines across from a bookshop.
A man in his 30s was killed and 40 others were wounded, including three children, police said. About a fourth of those hurt were in serious condition.
After the Victoria Station bombing, authorities sealed off all British Rail mainline stations in London for the first time and closed the interconnecting London subway stations as anti-terrorist squads searched for more bombs. The journeys of about 470,000 British Rail passengers were disrupted by the security measures.
Most stations, including part of Victoria Station, were reopened for the evening commute but delays were reported, British Rail said.
Home Secretary Kenneth Baker visited Victoria after the blast and said he was 'appalled and disgusted.'
'It's quite shocking to see the concourse of Victoria railway station covered in blood,' Baker said. 'It is the act of murderous criminals, quite coldly calculated to do the greatest damage to innocent men and women and children by placing a bomb in a litter bin.'
British Rail announced it was immediately removing all trash containers from its stations to prevent similar attacks. Earlier, some bins were removed and luggage lockers were closed.
Blackened fragments of a red trash bin were scattered over the Victoria Station floor, which was stained with pools of blood and littered with abandoned bags and briefcases.
'There was an almightly bang,' commuter Jeremy Rose said. 'There was just silence at first. There was no panic. Then everyone started running.'
London bus driver Jaynti Patel said he saw a man with a blood on his face and jacket lying inside the station entrance while a young girl staggered outside.
'She was trembling. She was shaking so bad,' he said.