The imposing M.I.6. headquarters on the Thames makes tanks look frail. A ziggurat-like fortress of a building nicknamed Babylon-on-Thames, it was designed to keep the international wing of Britain's intelligence agencies safe from terrorists. But at 9:45 on Wednesday night, the building was rocked by at least one explosion. The next morning, Scotland Yard admitted an embarrassing truth: a missile, fired at relatively close range, had hit the eighth floor. Whoever launched the missile had done so to make a point: it is possible to target the heart of the British security establishment--and hit it.
Noone has yet claimed responsibility for the missile strike, which caused only "minimal damage" to the M.I.6. building and no causualties or injuries. British investigators have said they are "keeping an open mind" as to who might have launched the missile, but speculation inevitably turned to dissident groups from Northern Ireland. "Certain terrorist groups will be uppermost in our minds through this investigation," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry, head of Scotland Yard's Anti-Terrorist Branch.
This morning, military intelligence officers arrived for work as usual, but on the eighth floor of their building, anti-terrorist officers combed the rubble-strewn site searching for clues. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Fry appealed to Londoners for help. "We know that communities defeat terrorism," he said. "We have proved that in the past, and once again we ask the community and the people of London and visitors in the vicinity last night to think about last night."
Police believe the missile was launched from a position between 220 and 550 yards away. There's speculation that the missile was launched by a small rocket launcher, less than 40 inches high, small enough to hide in a backpack. In the past, Irish groups have used these devices to launch from the inside of cars, terrorist experts say.
Londoners are worried that the M.I.6 missile is to be one of a string of strategically placed bombs. "We always urge the public to be vigilant," says a Scotland Yard spokeswoman. Yesterday's missile target wasn't a particularly original one. In last winter's James Bond blockbuster, "The World is Not Enough," a terrorist smuggles a bomb into M.I.6. headquarters, and blows the whole thing up. Real life, fortunately, has proved less dramatic--this time, at least.