A seasoned terrorist who served a jail term in the Republic for firearms-related offences, is believed to have masterminded the car bomb blast outside the Co Down headquarters of MI5.
The Co Louth man, who is currently the leader of the most active faction of the dissident Real IRA, is trying to create a twin campaign of gun and bomb strikes against security targets, combined with street disorder in Belfast and other main urban centres.
The blast, outside the MI5 base at Palace barracks in Holywood, will be top of the agenda for the hastily convened security summit between new Stormont Justice Minister David Ford and his southern counterpart Dermot Ahern. The summit has been fixed for Belfast on Friday morning. Also attending will be PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott and Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy.
A security alert which brought massive disruption to an Armagh village wound down last night. The Continuity IRA claimed it left a car bomb outside a police station in the Shambles Lane area of Newtownhamilton.
The PSNI said last night that Army bomb disposal had made safe a viable device located on the rear seat of a silver Peugeot 406. The device is understood to have consisted of a number of containers filled with flammable liquid.
More than 50 homes were evacuated in the alert. Residents began returning to homes last night as the security cordon was reduced.
Chief Inspector Sam Cordner said: “These cowardly criminals have shown complete disregard for the safety of the people of south Armagh and for police officers who serve this community.”
The recent spate of terrorist incidents will be under review when the two police chiefs examine their strategies to tackle the upsurge in dissident violence.
It was learned last night that the Holywood bomb contained between 40lbs and 50lbs of explosive. The bomb was packed into a taxi, hijacked about seven miles away in the Ligoniel area of north Belfast on Sunday night. The driver was ordered to drive the silver Skoda car to the barracks and park it there.
He was warned that his family were being held hostage and that he would not see them again unless he carried out the gang's instructions. Responsibility for the incident was initially claimed by the Real IRA faction, which has a stronghold in the south Armagh-north Louth area and has close links to another faction based in Londonderry. The leader of the Derry group has recently fallen out with the Border units and this has created a new split in the renegade republican outfit.
But senior police officers expect that the rift will be healed and the alliance re-formed.