Police were today testing suspected component bomb parts found abandoned in a van in south Armagh as speculation grew they have foiled a dissident plot to bring a massive amount of explosives into Northern Ireland.
An unidentified “granular” substance found packed into barrels and drums is being examined by forensic experts today following a long-running security alert south of Newry.
It is believed the components could potentially have been used to make a 1,000lb bomb or a number of smaller devices.
It is known that the material found is not Semtex and a number of bomb components were missing. However it is believed police may have disrupted what could have potentially been a supply chain of explosives crossing the border. It is not known what was the final destination of the van.
It was discovered parked under a flyover bridge on the A1 Newry Road at Cloghogue which has only been open since the start of the month as part of a multi-million euro upgrade of the carriageway between Dublin and Belfast.
It is not known why the van was abandoned but it is thought the driver may have been |panicked after seeing a police patrol.
A police source said that various items, including barrels and drums and an unidentified substance were discovered in the van and have been taken away for forensic examination.
He added that should it turn out that the substance could be part of a bomb, there were other parts needed which were not in the van.
The discovery of the vehicle sparked a major security alert yesterday and disrupted cross-border traffic.
Army bomb experts were sent to examine the vehicle. Gardai in the Republic were also notified of the operation and assisted with traffic management.
SDLP councilor for the area John McArdle said the alert had disrupted business in the area.
“The business that has been given to Newry and surrounding towns from the Republic has been a godsend. People are sick of this and want to move on. There isn’t any support for this type of thing,” he said.
Fellow SDLP councillor Michael Carr described the incident as “senseless”.
“If the whole idea was to damage the infrastructure, that is terrible.
“We have waited long enough to get a good infrastructure |between the North and the South and to think there are people out there who would attack it is terrible.”
The threat from dissident republicans remains at an all time high.
Intelligence chiefs confirmed earleir this month that dissidents, now thought to number around 700, have access to a store of weapons and explosives and are being helped by disaffected members of the Provisional IRA in their bid to murder members of the security forces.
The latest incident comes after a 400lb bomb partially exploded in a car outside the Policing Board headquarters in Belfast in November.
Groups such as the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA are continuing to recruit activists.
The Independent Monitoring Commission has confirmed that a number of former Pro-|visional IRA members have been lending their expertise to the dissidents. The British |intelligence service MI5 placed the dissident threat level as |“severe”, just one level down from “critical”, after two British soldiers and a policeman were shot dead in attacks earlier this year.
Meanwhile, police confirmed today they have launched an investigation after shots were fired at a PSNI station last night.
A number of shots were fired at Crossmaglen police station in south Armagh at 11pm.
Officers said there were no reports of injuries.
Police said no further details are available.