The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a powerful 3,300-pound truck bomb on Corporation Street in the centre of Manchester, England, at 11:17 AM on June 15, 1996. The biggest bomb detonated in Great Britain since World War II, it targets the city’s infrastructure and economy and causes widespread damage, estimated by insurers at £700 million.
The IRA sends telephone warnings about 90 minutes before the bomb is detonated. The area is evacuated but the bomb squad, using a remote-controlled device, is unable to defuse the bomb in time. More than 200 people are injured, but there are no fatalities. At the time, England is hosting the UEFA Euro ’96 football championships and a match between Russia and Germany is to take place in Manchester the following day.
The Marks & Spencer store, the sky bridge connecting it with the Arndale Centre, and neighbouring buildings are destroyed. The blast creates a mushroom cloud which rises 1,000 feet into the sky. Glass and masonry are thrown into the air and people are showered by falling debris behind the police cordon a half mile away. A search of the area for casualties is confused by mannequins blasted from shop windows, which are sometimes mistaken for bodies.
Since 1970 the Provisional IRA has been waging a campaign aimed at forcing the British government to negotiate a withdrawal from Northern Ireland. Although Manchester has been the target of IRA bombs before 1996, it has not been subjected to an attack of this scale. The IRA had ended its seventeen-month ceasefire in February 1996 with a similarly large truck bomb attack on the London Docklands.
The bombing is condemned by John Major‘s government, the opposition, and by individual members of parliament (MPs) as a “sickening”, “callous,” and “barbaric” terrorist attack. Early on, Major states that, “This explosion looks like the work of the IRA. It is the work of a few fanatics and…causes absolute revulsion in Ireland as it does here.” Sinn Féin is criticised by Taoiseach John Bruton for being “struck mute” on the issue in the immediate aftermath. The President of the United States, Bill Clinton, states he is “deeply outraged by the bomb explosion” and joins Bruton and Major in “utterly condemning this brutal and cowardly act of terrorism.” On June 20, 1996, the IRA claims responsibility for the bombing and states that it “sincerely regretted” causing injury to civilians.
Several buildings near the explosion are damaged beyond repair and have to be demolished, while many more are closed for months for structural repairs. Most of the rebuilding work is completed by the end of 1999, at a cost of £1.2 billion, although redevelopment continues until 2005. The perpetrators of the attack have not been caught and Greater Manchester Police concede it is unlikely that anyone will ever be charged in connection with the bombing.