05 May 2005

Guardian

Blasts hit British consulate in New York


Mark Tran
Thursday May 5, 2005


photo: CNN

Two small explosions went off outside the British consulate in New York today, police said.

The New York police department said the blasts, which happened at 3.35am local time (0835 BST), had shattered windows in the building, but nobody was injured and the consulate, in midtown Manhattan, had suffered no structural damage.

Pictures from CNN showed the area cordoned off, with bomb squad staff and fire engines in attendance.

"There was an explosion in front of the location," a New York police spokesman said. "It was detonated in one of the cement flower boxes used as a barrier outside the building. There was some damage to the front window, but there are no reports of any injuries at this stage."

The police said they were piecing together shrapnel at the scene, and it appeared that two homemade grenades had been used. One was the size and shape of a pineapple, the other the size and shape of a lemon. The two went off within a minute of each other.

One of the devices had some gunpowder inside linked to a fuse. The police added: "It was one of those things you light and then run."

Raymond Kelly, the New York city police chief, said there had been no threats and no phone calls after the explosions.

"There is no known motive for this action at this time," said Mr Kelly at a news conference at the scene of the explosions as a helicopter flew overhead.

Mr Kelly said video film from security cameras was being studied for clues as to who might have set off the explosions.

Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York city, cautioned against jumping to conclusions. "There is no knowledge of what the motive was," he said.

The road was closed for two blocks on either side of the consulate, a big office building at the corner of East 50th street and Third Avenue.

The consulate helps distressed Britons, issuing emergency British passports for one-way journeys to the UK and handling visa applications. The consulate's press and public affairs department organises exchange programmes, seminars and conferences.

A trade and investment section gives free advice and assistance to US firms interested in starting or expanding a business in the UK.

The blast occurred as British voters went to the polls in the general election, but experts said it was too early to speculate on whether there was any connection between the two events.

Professor Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrew's University, said: "We have no idea yet who the perpetrators were, but obviously the authorities will be keeping a close eye on the investigation."

In November 2003 a suicide bomb attack devastated the British consulate general in Istanbul, in Turkey. Among those who died in the incident was the consul general, Roger Short, the UK's top envoy in the city.

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