Belfast bomb: Dissidents highly likely to strike again in run-up to Easter, warns top PSNI man
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.
Yesterday's victim works in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders' Centre in Belfast.
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".