Belfast Telegraph

Friday 27 May 2016

Bomb scares: 'Garden shed' terrorism may seem amateurish but these devices are deadly and part of our daily lives

By Henry McDonald

Published 30/12/2015

Back in the 1990s, in the middle of the Drumcree dispute, a senior RUC officer coined a new term known as "garden shed terrorism".

He was referring to the home-made explosives and pipe bombs being used by extreme anti-peace process elements to terrorise and intimidate their 'enemies' across Northern Ireland.

Such enemies included a Portadown grandmother murdered in one pipe bomb blast, and a Catholic policeman killed in the same town when a similar device was hurled at RUC lines at Drumcree parish church.

These devices were placed on the window sills of Catholic homes and outside GAA clubs and, although crude in their construction, they could at times be lethal. They were the products of garden shed terrorism because, unlike the highly sophisticated explosive devices invented by the Provisional IRA, these weapons were comprised of common products you might find in your average garage or even the shed at the back of the garden.

They included firework powder, nails, ball bearings, propellant and crudely-devised fuses which either could be lit like a Molotov cocktail or that triggered on impact.

The 90s was also the dawn of the internet, and in the dark reaches of the world-wide web, terrorists, even lone wolf ones, could seek out recipes to build their own home-made bombs - a kind of new online version of the Anarchist Cookbook.

The legacy of the pipe bombs of the parade disputes and the advent of the internet are probably the reason why we are in the astonishing situation at the end of 2015 where the Army's bomb disposal teams are called out on average more than four times a week.

Of course, the vast majority of these callouts are a result of hoaxes, which more than often are the work of republican dissidents opposed to peace and power-sharing in Northern Ireland. For them, this is not just garden shed terrorism per se but the cheapest form of terror activity around - the hoax and the massive disruption to roads, rail, communities, conferences, parades and the communications network.

The Belfast Telegraph's revelation that there were 700 security alerts in the last three years is testament to the resilience of the numerically small number of hardline anti-ceasefire republicans whose greatest enemy of all is normality, which they seek to subvert with the abnormality of roads sealed off, residents moved in the dead of night from their homes, schools unable to open and train schedules disrupted on the rail link between the two major cities on this island.

Combined with the hoax is the ever-present threat of crude explosive devices and the damage they can cause.

They cannot, of course, devastate large commercial and business centres like the City of London or the heart of Manchester as the Provos once did, but these type of garden shed bombs can still kill or maim, and their proliferation, thanks to the widespread availability of their core ingredients and know-how downloaded from the web, means Army technical officers alongside the PSNI cannot take any chances with them.

So while it is clear that such bombs do not have the same major strategic impact as the mortars fired at 10 Downing Street or the massive bomb that blew up Canary Wharf, garden shed terrorism is probably here to stay.

And just like the way we have all got used to taking our shoes off in the airport to be scanned and having liquids taken off us as we pass through security at Belfast International or Belfast City or any airport across the planet, the phenomena of the pipe bomb has become part of the daily uncertainties and threats of 21st century living.

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