Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Bomb attacks: Dissident republican technology that should have us concerned

Dissident republicans are being blamed after an under-car booby trap bomb was defused during a security alert in west Belfast
Dissident republicans are being blamed after an under-car booby trap bomb was defused during a security alert in west Belfast

That explosion on Friday night was heard in many corners of the city.

Within minutes th Twittersphere was full of questions about the blast.

Details of the attack on police emerged soon afterwards, but it wasn't until Saturday that the bomb was accurately described.

The device had not been thrown as was originally thought, but triggered by command wire.

This is not the first time that the dissidents have introduced this method and tactic into their war plays.

Three years ago the faction Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) aborted a similar planned attack on police in north Belfast when a woman approached officers responding to an emergency call. And these are the fine lines between life and death.

The risk is not just to the police officers being targeted.

That bomb on Friday was triggered with civilians in the firing line – the explosion spitting shrapnel towards other vehicles on a busy Falls Road.

This time the attack was not abandoned. The button was pressed.

It proves the dissidents have developed this bomb technology to the point of detonation, and this is another concern.

More often than not these planned attacks fail. Bombs are abandoned, or they partially detonate, or dissidents are arrested and devices seized as they are being transported to their target.

But not on Friday. Those behind the attack got this bomb trap into place and got it to work. It came just hours after an under-car booby trap bomb was found on the Blacks Road after falling from a vehicle.

The likelihood is this was another plot to kill a police officer – but trying to accurately pinpoint the target was described by one PSNI source as searching for a needle in the haystack.

These bombs have fallen from cars before – the magnets not strong enough to hold them in place and, here again, we see those fine margins between what the dissidents would term success and failure.

After Friday, the groups that make up that dissident world are back in the news and headlines again.

In the games of hide and seek they play we see them and then we don't.

They don't have the capacity for a sustained surge of activity but, in those periods when we don't see or hear them, they are planning the next action – looking at the next target.

There was some criticism of the police response time on the Falls Road on Friday night.

But there is a need for caution. Often one dissident action is designed to lure the police into another trap.

In the dark, they don't know who or what is waiting for them.

So, the response steps have to be carefully measured and taken. Lives are on the line.

Within the recent pattern of dissident activity we see a range of tactics – not just the devices in play on Friday but letter-bombs sent to prison officers here and army careers offices in England.

They haven't gone away, aren't going away, but nor is there anything to suggest an ability to significantly increase the threat they pose.

We know they have the capacity to kill but not to recreate the day to day violence that characterised the long campaign of the mainstream IRA.

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