20 April 2006

Bomb was for major attack, say police


· Four arrested after explosives found in Ulster
· Warning of continued threat to security forces

Owen Bowcott
Thursday April 20, 2006
The Guardian

Dissident republicans had been preparing a major attack, police warned yesterday after finding a partially assembled 250lb fertiliser bomb in a breakers' yard in Northern Ireland.

The discovery of such a large device comes after a warning from the Independent Monitoring Commission that small breakaway groups such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA continue to pose a threat to the security forces.

Four men, aged between 22 and 46, were arrested under the Terrorism Act, three in the scrapyard near the Antrim Road in Lurgan, County Armagh. Officers spent most of the day searching the site, which was close to a railway line. Army bomb disposal experts were called in.

Police in riot gear later clashed with local youths hurling bricks and paint bombs. There were reports that petrol bombs had been thrown and masked men spotted in the area. There were also reports of fires being started near the yard where the components were found. No one was injured, although police vehicles were damaged. Railways services were halted during the disturbance.

It is thought the explosives were being prepared for a car bomb. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) confirmed that "suspected bomb making materials" and "a quantity of fertiliser" - the main ingredient of home-made explosives - had been discovered.

Superintendent Alan Todd said he did not know what the target was, but expressed alarm that the bomb was being made so close to the Kilwilkee housing estate. "Material of that sort is by its nature unstable," he said. "The device was being constructed for immediate use. We believe it's linked to dissident republican organisations. It's a very worrying escalation, at a time when the community is trying to move forward, that there is still a small number of individuals intent on swimming against the tide of public opinion."

Residents at a private housing development metres from where the bomb components were seized were stunned that a device was being constructed so near to them.

Liam Thompson, 24, who lives in Belvedere Manor, described as one of Lurgan's most sought-after locations, said: "If it had gone off around there, God only knows what sort of damage it could have caused.

"It's especially frightening considering all the schoolchildren around here."

There have been a series of poorly coordinated attacks by dissident republicans in recent months. Most have been aimed at army barracks or police stations. The dissident groups, opposed to the peace process, have denounced the Provisional IRA's decision to dispose of its weapons.

Last week an attempt to damage Strand Road police station in Derry was blamed on dissidents. Armed men hijacked a van and ordered the driver to take the vehicle, which contained an incendiary device, to the station. He abandoned the van and raised the alarm.

Sinn Féin condemned those responsible for the Lurgan bomb. "These groups have little or no support within this community and they do not have a strategy to deliver Irish unity and independence," said local assembly member John O'Dowd. "The discovery of this device has ensured disruption and inconvenience for local people and has caused anger within the community."

Dolores Kelly, the Social Democratic and Labour party assembly member for Upper Bann, said: "The people of Lurgan are horrified that dissident republicans have been plotting and planning a major attack. Four men have been arrested while making what is believed to be a 200lb bomb in the middle of a built-up area.

"There is no doubt that these dissident republicans were intent on causing major trauma and damage. They were playing with the lives of the people of Lurgan by making such a sophisticated device in the heart of the community.

"The good people of the north of Ireland want to move away from the shadows of the conflict and dissident republicans must come on board and realise the days of guns and bombs are over."

The concerns raised by the Independent Monitoring Commission are shared by some officers at Scotland Yard, who fear that a small hard core of dissidents disaffected with the peace process still pose a threat.

Last month's IMC review warned that dissident republicans were a "continuing threat to the security forces", training members and acquiring equipment. "Their capacity for sustained campaigns is limited but they are prepared to resort to extreme violence."

It said the threat was greater in some areas, such as South Armagh. "They are heavily engaged in organised crime," the commission noted.

In February, the Continuity IRA said there would be "no decommissioning, no ceasefires and no surrender". It claimed responsibility for leaving explosive devices outside police stations in Belfast and East Tyrone.

The last major bomb attack in Northern Ireland was in August 1998, when the Real IRA planted a 500lb bomb in the market town of Omagh, killing 29 people and injuring 200. It was the single worst attack in the Northern Ireland conflict.

Since then, the peace ushered in by the Good Friday agreement has largely held.

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