Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Checkpoints among heavy police presence due for Christmas to combat dissident republican terrorism 'surge'

The scene at the top of Chichester Street in Belfast City Centre beside Victoria Square where a car bomb partially exploded on Sunday night
The scene at the top of Chichester Street in Belfast City Centre beside Victoria Square where a car bomb partially exploded on Sunday night
The scene at the top of Chichester Street in Belfast City Centre beside Victoria Square where a car bomb partially exploded on Sunday night
The scene at the top of Chichester Street in Belfast City Centre beside Victoria Square where a car bomb partially exploded on Sunday night

A huge police presence - including the use of checkpoints - will be deployed in Belfast city centre in the run-up to Christmas as security chiefs battle to quell a surge in dissident republican activity.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott has vowed to use all resources at his disposal to combat terrorists intent on bringing carnage to Northern Ireland's streets in the coming weeks.

The country's most senior police officer said the philosophy of those behind the dissident activity, including the attempted car bombing of Victoria Square, was "simply hatred".

"We have been saying now for a number of weeks and months there has been a surge in dissident republican activity," said Mr Baggott. "We have seen letter bombs, under-car booby-traps, blast bombs, hijackings.

"These groupings are trying to bring themselves to notice again. They seem to be in some form of bizarre competition to make sure that they have a profile.

"They won't be allowed to take us back."

Mr Baggott's comments came as an investigation got under way into the attempted bombing of the flagship Victoria Square complex in the heart of Belfast city centre.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

A former senior police officer, who investigated numerous bomb atrocities during the Troubles, told the Belfast Telegraph the bomb could have proved "catastrophic".

"Had the device detonated in its entirety in an underground car park it could have been carnage," he said. "In a confined, underground space such an explosion would tear through anything or anybody in its proximity."

A terrified driver was stopped by three masked men in Ardoyne on Sunday evening.

His car was loaded with a 60kg homemade bomb which he was ordered to drive to the underground car park below the shopping and entertainment complex.

After abandoning the vehicle, he ran across the road to the nearby Musgrave Street police station and raised the alarm.

The Laganside court complex and dozens of shops and offices are situated nearby.

The detonator exploded but failed to trigger the rest of the device.

Hundreds of people had to be evacuated from restaurants and a cinema as Army bomb disposal experts were called in.

The detonator went off as Army personnel prepared to examine the car.

Mr Baggott yesterday said police were determined to protect the wishes of "99.9%" of the public opposed to sectarian violence.

And he vowed a massive police presence in the city centre over the next month which will include vehicle checkpoints.

"We do go through periods when we have a surge of activity and we've seen that over the last few months," he said.

"You can expect from the PSNI a significant increase in our street presence and visibility in the next few weeks."

But Mr Baggott said he was reluctant to throw a so-called ring of steel round the city centre.

"I don't like the phrase because it implies somehow we've gone back to the past, we haven't," he said. "This is a surge of activity, nothing like it was in the past."

Lord Mayor of Belfast Mairtin O Muilleoir last night urged the public not to be put off from shopping and socialising in the city.

"Our message is clear – those who seek to wreck and cause ruin have no place here. Belfast is open for business."

First Minister Peter Robinson added: "We are working together, trying to make progress, keeping Northern Ireland moving forward.

"There are still some people out there who would seek to drag us back, they won't be successful."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned those responsible for the attack.

He said they did not have the right to engage in that kind of behaviour.

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