Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Belfast bomb: Dissidents highly likely to strike again in run-up to Easter, warns top PSNI man

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 05/03/2016

Police seal off the area around Hillsborough Drive in east Belfast after a bomb exploded under a van
Police seal off the area around Hillsborough Drive in east Belfast after a bomb exploded under a van
Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin briefs the media after the attack

Police have warned it is "highly likely" dissident republicans will try to murder members of the security forces ahead of Easter.

It comes after a prison officer narrowly escaped death in a bomb attack yesterday. The father-of-three (52) suffered leg wounds when the device exploded under a van he was driving.

The murder bid comes just three weeks before republicans mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, a landmark event in the battle for Irish independence from Britain.

There are fears that dissidents will launch a wave of attacks to coincide with the centenary.

A security source told the Belfast Telegraph: "The fear of another attack is very real."

Referring to prison officers specifically, they added: "They believe a lot of reconnaissance-type activity has already been carried out.

"The indications are that this will not be the last (attack), and that there could be further attacks quite soon."

The Prison Officers' Association said it feared a second murder bid was "imminent".

And Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin confirmed another attack was "highly likely". "I believe that there are people within dissident republican groupings that want to mark this centenary by killing police officers, prison officers or soldiers," he said.

ACC Martin added there would be an increased police presence in the coming days aimed at thwarting further attacks.

A bomb disposal unit officer at the scene following a suspected car bomb attack on a prison officer at Hillsborough Drive on March 4, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
A bomb disposal unit officer at the scene following a suspected car bomb attack on a prison officer at Hillsborough Drive on March 4, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
A bomb disposal unit officer inspects the damaged van following a suspected car bomb attack on a prison officer at Hillsborough Drive on March 4, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
The scene at the top of Hillsborough Drive off the Woodstock Road in east Belfast where a device exploded under a van resulting in one man being hospitalised. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
A man, believed to be a prison officer, has been taken to hospital after a device exploded under a van in east Belfast. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
A man, believed to be a prison officer, has been taken to hospital after a device exploded under a van in east Belfast.
Picture credit © Matt Mackey - Presseye.com Belfast - Northern Ireland - 4th March 2016 The scene where a man, believed to be a prison officer, has been taken to hospital after a device exploded under a van in east Belfast. It happened around the Woodstock Road at about 07:10 GMT on Friday.
A man, believed to be a prison officer, has been taken to hospital after a device exploded under a van in east Belfast.
The scene where a man, believed to be a prison officer, has been taken to hospital after a device exploded under a van in east Belfast. It happened around the Woodstock Road at about 07:10 GMT on Friday.
The scene where a man, believed to be a prison officer, has been taken to hospital after a device exploded under a van in east Belfast. It happened around the Woodstock Road at about 07:10 GMT on Friday.
A man, believed to be a prison officer, has been taken to hospital after a device exploded under a van in east Belfast. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
A man, believed to be a prison officer, has been taken to hospital after a device exploded under a van in east Belfast.
The van at the scene of the car bomb in East Belfast
The scene where a man, believed to be a prison officer, has been taken to hospital after a device exploded under a van in east Belfast. It happened around the Woodstock Road at about 07:10 GMT on Friday.
Police seal off a large area after a device exploded under a car in east Belfast, leaving a man injured.
Police seal off a large area after a device exploded under a car in east Belfast, leaving a man injured. Pic Lesley-Anne McKeown/PA Wire

Yesterday's victim works in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders' Centre in Belfast.

Editor's viewpoint

Northern Ireland has moved on and twisted dissidents won't drag us back  

He was driving along Hillsborough Drive, off the Woodstock Road in east Belfast, when the device partially detonated.

The incident took place around 7.10am. People in the area described hearing a "massive" bang. "I didn't know what it was, but it was huge," one man said.

ACC Martin said those behind yesterday's attack intended to kill.

The victim has undergone surgery. His condition is serious but not life-threatening, he added.

Tensions are already running high ahead of events on both sides of the border to mark 100 years since the 1916 Rising.

Mr Martin said the threat was "severe" and told how police patrols had been stepped up across the province in recent weeks and would continue during the run-up to the Easter period.

"We do think that people want to kill in the run-up to and through Easter," he added.

ACC Martin did not comment directly on reports that a further attack on a prison officer was expected.

"There is a severe threat, an attack is highly likely," he added. "We believe that the primary focus of those attacks are police officers, prison officers and soldiers."

The bomb caused chaos during the Friday morning rush hour.

A large cordon was thrown around the scene, with several streets closed off.

Nearby houses were evacuated with people seeking refuge in a Salvation Army centre on the Cregagh Road.

The attack drew condemnation from senior political, religious and community figures.

First Minister Arlene Foster said it was a "disgraceful and despicable" act.

And Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he condemned the murder bid "unreservedly".

"It was a futile and despicable act carried out by those opposed to the peace process," he added.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers called it a "vicious attack". "Like all his colleagues in the Prison Service, this officer serves the whole of the community, in stark contrast to the people who carried out this appalling and violent crime," she added.

Sue McAllister, the director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, said: "This was a despicable act and an attack on us all. This officer serves the entire community, and whoever was behind this attack has nothing to offer anyone in Northern Ireland."

In 2012 warder David Black was shot dead by dissidents on the M1 motorway as he drove to work at Maghaberry Prison.

Finlay Spratt, from the Prison Officers' Association, said the attacks showed there was "no let-up for prison officers". "We can't live a normal life," he added. "We're not allowed to live a normal life by these thugs."

Presbyterian Moderator Dr Ian McNie said: "This attack is a throwback to a past that should never be repeated."

President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Reverend Brian Anderson, who grew up in the area, condemned the bomb as "savage" and "dastardly".

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