A land mine destroyed a military bus carrying British soldiers to their barracks Friday night, killing seven troopers and injuring 29 others, police said.
The military bus, which bore no markings, was taking 38 soldiers to their barracks at Omagh, 50 miles west of Belfast, following their leaves in England, said a spokesman at the British Army's headquarters at Lisburn near Belfast.The vehicle detonated the mine nine miles from the soldiers' barracks on the road between Omagh and Ballygawley in County Tyrone.
Paddy Bogan, president of Northern Ireland's centrist Alliance Party, who lives near the scene of the blast, described the attack as "a terrible slaughter."
Bogan, who went to the scene with other local people, said: "The bus was a mess of mangled metal. It was a miracle anyone got out of it alive. The faces of the injured were terribly cut and bleeding."
A press officer at Belfast police headquarters said a report in the initial confusion at the scene of the blast that the final death toll could mount to at least 13 could now be discounted.
No one claimed responsibility, but police suspected guerrillas of the outlawed Irish Republican Army. The army spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with British practice.
Police and army units rushed in to seal off the area and search for the killers, while ambulances took the casualties to Tyrone County Hospital.
The predominantly Roman Catholic IRA is fighting to drive the British out of Northern Ireland, a province where Protestants outnumber Catholics 3-2, and unite it with the Catholic Irish Republic.
Police blamed IRA guerrillas for two other bombings Friday. One injured three police officers and the other damaged Northern Ireland's newest luxury hotel.
Also on Friday, funerals were held for a British soldier IRA guerrillas killed last week in Belgium and for a Protestant grocer shot to death Wednesday in his Belfast store.
The three police officers were wounded when they responded to a ringing burglary alarm early Friday at a gas station in Lisnaskea, 62 miles west of Belfast. Officials said one of the officers, a 26-year-old woman, lost an eye and remained hospitalized. Her two male colleagues were treated for cuts and released.