LONDON -- Attackers who blasted the headquarters of Britain's intelligence service MI6 may have used a type of rocket launcher readily available to the Irish Republican Army and the hardline splinter groups which reject a cease-fire, police said Thursday.
No one was injured and damage was minimal when the building was struck by what police called a "small missile" Wednesday night. But the attack put Londoners on guard against a renewed spate of terrorist attacks and dealt a further blow to the security of the secretive spy agency.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry, head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, told reporters that the missile may have been fired by a rocket launcher from a range of 200 to 500 yards.
Similar devices had been found in republican arms caches in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and may have been used in attacks in Britain, he said, adding that such weapons devices are freely available from Russia and the former Yugoslavia.
Police are keeping an open mind, but "clearly the sort of weapon we believe was used in this attack is known to be in the hands of certain groups," Fry said. "They will be uppermost in our minds."
There had been no warning of the attack, which shattered a window and two wall panels on the eighth floor, Fry said. No one had yet claimed responsibility.
Earlier, as police began searching for evidence on the streets, river and railway lines around the modernist building on the Thames in central London, Fry urged vigilance against "a genuine threat of terrorism in London."
Police said attackers struck around 9:45 p.m. at the MI6 building, hitting the exterior of the eighth floor, near the top of the building.
They would not speculate on whether the missile had been launched from the river or from land. Fry said the projectile did not appear to have been a mortar shell because he would have expected more damage.
"I heard two large bangs," said Sridharan Balakrishnan, an employee at gas station behind the MI6 building. "It was very loud and hurt my ears. Then I saw smoke coming from the MI6 building."
The IRA has observed a cease-fire since 1997, but dissidents within the ranks are believed to be responsible for a number of explosions in Northern Ireland and England in recent months.
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