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IRA sympathiser plotted to kill the Queen by dropping ‘an object’ onto the Royal Yacht Britannia as it sailed into San Francisco during her 1983 visit, newly declassified FBI documents reveal
The FBI has unsealed a trove of classified documents relating to visits to the US made by Queen Elizbeth II, revealing a potential assassination plot by Irish nationalist sympathisers.
The documents, which show how authorities repeatedly braced for threats from supporters of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), were revealed as a result of FOI requests submitted after the death of the Queen in September last year.
The potential assassination threat was revealed the night before the late Queen was due to arrive in San Francisco in 1983 when a police officer warned federal agents about a potential attack.
It involved attempting to drop ‘an object’ from the Golden Gate Bridge as the royal yacht Britannia sailed beneath it.
It comes as part of a huge release of more than 100 pages of documents related to the late monarch following Freedom of Information Acts sent to the FBI following her death in September last year.
What has been revealed by the FBI documents?
- An assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth II was foiled the night before her arrival in the US in 1983;
- The FBI warned it would be ‘very hard’ to avoid events which would ’embarrass’ the Queen during the trip;
- There were also warnings of an attack by IRA sympathisers during a visit in 1981;
- The FBI assessed the threat of the IRA to the British royal family as ‘ever present’.
The police officer who tipped off authorities drank regularly at an Irish pub and told agents about an IRA sympathiser who was set on getting his revenge over the death of his daughter.
It followed a phone call he received in February from a man who he knew through the pub, ‘who claimed that his daughter had been killed in Northern Ireland by a rubber bullet’.
This phone call came around a month before then-President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan hosted the 57-year-old Queen and Prince Philip in California.
Official documents state the man told the officer he planned to ‘attempt to harm’ the late Queen by either dropping ‘an object’ off the Golden Gate Bridge or otherwise try and kill her during a visit to Yosemite National Park.
The memo into the assassination attempt states: ‘This man additionally claimed that he was going to attempt to harm Queen Elizabeth and would do this either by dropping some object off the Golden Gate Bridge onto the royal yacht Britannia when it sails underneath, or would attempt to kill Queen Elizabeth when she visited Yosemite National Park.’
The documents add the man in question had previously been involved in police investigations. He was described as having been ‘generally coopertive, although he makes no secret of his sympathies for the IRA’ [sic].
The documents also reveal that FBI agents warned ahead of the visit: ‘It will be very hard to anticipate and prevent incidents which may embarrass either the queen or the president.’
Although possibly the most substantial threat, it was not the first time that the FBI had warned of possible attacks on Her Majesty.
Two years prior, the FBI warned of a ‘potential attack’ against Elizabeth II when she visited US cities with strong Irish links including Boston and New York.
Another document from 1989 stated: ‘The possibility of threats against the British Monarchy is ever present from the Irish Republican Army.’
It continued: ‘Boston and New York are requested to remain alert for any threats against Queen Elizabeth II on the part of IRA members and immediately furnish same to Louisville.’
And in 1976, a pilot in New York was summoned by police to prevent him from flying a ‘England, Get out of Ireland’ banner while Elizabeth II was in the city.
The frequent concerns of the US authorities and the royal family themselves were far from without basis – in 1979 Elizabeth II’s second cousin Lord Mountbatten was famously murdered in an IRA bombing.
He and three others died after his fishing vessel was filled with explosives which were later detonated.
The other victims were Mountbatten’s grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, crew member Paul Maxwell and Nicholas’ paternal grandmother Doreen, Dowager Lady Brabourne.
There were also previous assassination attempts against the Queen which made the threat of the IRA even more potent.
In 1981 a teenager from New Zealand aimed and fired a gun at Her Majesty as she stepped out of a car.
Christopher John Lewis fired a rifle, which missed, during the Queen’s tour of the country. But he soon became obsessed with the idea of wiping out the royal family.
Two years later he attempted to overpower guards at a psychiatric hospital where he was being detained in order to try and kill Prince Charles, who was in New Zealand with Princess Diana and Prince William.
In the same year an anti-royal extremist shot blanks at the Queen six times during the Trooping of the Colour.
She again emerged uninjured from the attempt, carried out by 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant.
He was later sentenced to five years in prison on terrorism offences, but only served three – during which time he wrote to Elizabeth II and apologised for his actions.
And in 1970 a plot was uncovered in Australia after the train she and Prince Philip were travelling in struck a log on the track.
Fortunately the driver noticed the log and slowed enough that the train did not derail, but former detective superintendent Cliff McHardy in 2009 said that his investigation had concluded the log had been put in place deliberately.
If the driver had not seen the log, the train could have derailed, sending the royal couple into a deep embankment below.
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