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Brian Rowan: Bomb warnings are deadly game of cat-and-mouse

These are human judgements. There’s no textbook — no manual to tell you how to do it.” The words are spoken by a source who has decades of policing experience stretching from the RUC into the PSNI.

He is talking about bomb warnings, and how the security forces respond.

“The first thing is accuracy and danger to the public,” he explains, meaning having to assess the call and having so little time to do it.

There are, of course, other issues to consider.

“Is this a come-on, is there some other reason, something unseen?” the source said.

In other words, is it a trap? A means of walking police officers and soldiers into an ambush.

It is easy to criticise security responses to bomb warnings, but much more difficult to take the first steps into these situations.

Often soldiers and police officers are walking and working in the dark with little information.

And sometimes this comes down to instinct, gut feelings.

In Newry, like on previous occasions, the dissidents walked a thin line, giving just enough time for the area around the courthouse to be cleared, but not enough time for a security operation that might neutralise the bomb.

This is a dangerous and sometimes deadly game, a ruthless play with lives.

I have taken hundreds of statements from the IRA and loyalist organisations — warnings, threats and claims of responsibility, communications nearly always accompanied by codewords to authenticate the message.

These are the hidden and now redundant words of an old war — Titanic, Cromwell, Crucible, Braveheart, Defender, Boomerang, Arafat, Pale Horse, Genesis and Paschendale.

The dissidents will have their own codewords, their own ways of communicating warnings and other messages.

It was in car bomb attacks that they first emerged in 1998, targeting Moira, Portadown and Banbridge before the horror of Omagh.

Then they went into hiding, the body count on that August day shaming them off the stage.

The security forces will be interested in how the Newry bomb was constructed, and so too will mainstream republicans.

This fight the dissidents are continuing might look to be with the security forces, but the real targets are the Sinn Fein leadership.

This is an assault on the peace strategy of Adams and McGuinness, a battle for authority inside the republican community.

The dissidents know their war will not force the “Brits” out and will not remove the border. So, the fight is about something else, about saying in this violence that Adams and McGuinness sold out, but we fight on.

Mainstream republicans will be watching carefully — always assessing the dissident threat, asking if their technical expertise is improving, and what physical threat they pose to republican leaders such as Adams and McGuinness.

Any attack on them could threaten everything. It could threaten the very peace that is developing.

It would be viewed as a direct challenge to the authority of the mainstream republican leadership from inside its own community.

The dissident war is not with the British and the security forces. It is about something else, something much more personal. Something much closer to home.

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