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Lurgan’s troubled weekend: Hijacked vehicles, sinister threats and gunmen in masks...

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Trouble flared for a third night in Co Armagh as dissident republicans staged violent opposition to the jailing of three men.

Over the weekend a total of 10 vehicles were hijacked — nine of which were set alight — as gangs of armed and masked men attempted to lure police into nationalist estates in Lurgan and Craigavon.

In the latest sporadic trouble on Saturday up to six masked men forced a man out of his car at the Drumbeg roundabout, Craigavon at about 9.40pm. Police said one of the men was reported to have been carrying a gun while another had a knife. Twenty minutes later in Lurgan a mother and son were subjected to a terrifying ordeal when dissidents told them they would become human bombs.

Two masked men, one of whom was carrying a handgun, stopped the pair in a horse lorry and claimed they had attached a device to the vehicle. They ordered the woman to take it to a nearby police station.

On examination by PSNI officers nothing untoward was found.

Disturbances first broke out on Thursday evening, hours after suspected Continuity IRA members Damien McKenna, Gary Toman and Sean McConville were sentenced for up to 15 years each for plotting to kill police officers using a mortar bomb.

A number of cars were hijacked and placed over railway lines at Lake Street on the edge of the Kilwilkie estate and at nearby Drumbeg an articulated lorry driver narrowly escaped injury when his truck was torched.

The violence spilled over into Friday with several more cars hijacked and burnt on the Lake Street railway crossing.

Police were also forced to step up patrols and increase the number of checkpoints in parts of Northern Ireland in a bid to disrupt dissident activity.

Following the discovery of a bomb at Forkhill in south Armagh security sources said the threat from dissidents is higher than at any time in the past five years.

It is feared dissidents will attempt to stage an attack to mark the arrival of Chief Constable Matt Baggott, who starts tomorrow.

HOW EVENTS UNFOLDED

Thursday

12pm Three Lurgan men involved in a dissident republican plot to kill police officers with a mortar bomb were each jailed for 15 years.

6pm Trouble flares in the Kilwilkie, Drumbeg and Meadowbank estates. Five vehicles are hijacked and set alight. Two were placed on railway lines causing disruption to train services. Also reports of masked gunmen in the area.

Friday

Police investigating the disturbances find a replica firearm in the Kilwilkie area.

6.30pm Rioters take to the streets for a second night in a row. Two vehicles are hijacked. One is placed on railway tracks near Lake Street and set alight causing disruption to rail services.

7.30pm Police launch Operation Dissent — targeting dissident republican activity.

Saturday

Morning Police patrols and checkpoints are mounted province-wide. Violence erupts in Lurgan and Craigavon.

9.40pm In Craigavon up to six masked men forced a man out of his car at the Drumbeg roundabout before stealing it. 10pm In Lurgan hijackers told a woman they placed a device on her lorry and forced her to drive to a police station. Upon examination by police nothing was found.

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