It was a small blast with a large echo. Last week the headquarters of Britain's foreign intelligence agency, MI6, was hit with what police believe was a Russian-made, shoulder-launched antitank rocket.
No one was hurt, and damage to the modern blast-proof building was slight. But traffic into London was snarled as police searched nearby streets for clues to an attack they called "audacious and reckless."
Suspicion centered on the Real I.R.A., a splinter group opposed to a Northern Ireland peace process that has their former I.R.A. comrades working with Protestant parties in a coalition government. The rocket launcher used in the attack is known to be part of the group's arsenal.
The Real I.R.A. provoked universal revulsion two years ago when it exploded a bomb on a busy shopping street in Omagh, killing 29 people. Its strategy now is to seek publicity rather than mayhem. Three weeks ago it hit an Ulster police station parking lot with a mortar. In July it disrupted London traffic during the Queen Mother's official birthday by planting a bomb near a train line. In June it damaged Hammersmith Bridge in London with an explosion. Other attacks have failed because the bombs did not detonate or the police detected them. Senior officers warn that the group's capabilities are growing.
The striking architecture of MI6's headquarters makes it a landmark on the Thames, and a role in the recent James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough has made it famous around the world. The cinema version of the building gets a big hole in its side from a terrorist bomb. Perhaps one of the Real I.R.A.'s commanders is a movie buff with a macabre sense of humor.