Irish Bombers in a 'Real' Mess

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BELFAST: They may call themselves the Real IRA, but is this a real cease-fire? The Republican splinter group responsible for Saturday's horrific bomb attack in Omagh, the bloodiest in Northern Ireland's recent history, announced a "suspension" of their campaign of violence Wednesday. The reason? Widespread public anger and an appeal from Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, according to the Real IRA's statement published in the Belfast Irish News. The real reason? If they hadn't said something, Ahern was threatening to crack down on the group's Dublin HQ. Besides, there's a more important public relations battle to wage.

When they admitted responsibility for the attack Tuesday, the Real IRA insisted so many people died in the predominantly Catholic town because the police misread their warnings. Not so, said Tony Blair, and the British prime minister promptly released an audio tape of the group's first phone call to a Belfast TV station. "There's a bomb, courthouse," it says. In the event, people evacuated from the courthouse were led directly into the street where the car bomb stood. TIME London Bureau chief Barry Hillenbrand says it is quite possible that the terrorists intended to target the courthouse, "drove round for a bit, couldn't find a space, and parked in a different street." Such actions will require one heck of a Real explanation.