Belfast Telegraph

Bomber on a bicycle: Belfast dissident who copied al-Qaida tactics

By Chris Kilpatrick

A dissident republican carried a bomb on the handlebars of his bike as he rode through an area packed with revellers, detectives have said.

Police yesterday confirmed a pressure cooker was used as part of the crude device – the first time a tactic widely used by al-Qaida has been deployed in Northern Ireland.

It exploded after being left inside a sports bag at Exchange Street West in the popular Cathedral Quarter area of Belfast.

The same type of device was used to devastating effect at the Boston Marathon last year, killing three and injuring dozens more.

A warning phoned to a newspaper less than an hour before the explosion gave the wrong location of the bomb.

Around 1,000 people had been in the area at the time of the incident, which happened less than a fortnight before Christmas.

Police were clearing people from several premises when the device exploded.

Dissident republican group Óglaigh na hÉireann said it was responsible.

Investigators yesterday released CCTV pictures of a cyclist on the night of the attack.

They believe he was responsible for transporting the bomb to the busy area.

The pictures show a man on a bicycle in Talbot Street and in St Anne's Square just before the explosion.

Detective Inspector Chris Wilson, from the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said: "These images were taken at 5.46pm when the area was busy.

"In Talbot Street the cyclist actually moves in the opposite direction to the traffic. In St Anne's Square the holdall is visible beside the bike's handlebars.

"Our inquiries are progressing. We have established that a pressure cooker was used as part of the device. The attack ruined a night out for hundreds of people but it had the potential to injure or kill.

"I am appealing to anyone who was in the Cathedral Quarter around 5.45pm and saw a man on a bike wearing a black hoody and carrying a black Slazenger holdall to contact the police."

The vigilance of a member of the public who reported the bag to police meant officers did not inadvertently direct people towards it when clearing the area.

"It could have been a sports bag, it could have been innocent, but that was my instinct," he said at the time. "When I saw it on television I couldn't sleep. My stomach is churning just thinking what could have happened."

Anyone with information is asked to contact detectives at 028 9180 1507 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

FACTFILE

The bomb was left in a holdall in Exchange Street West where it exploded shortly before 7pm on Friday, December 13 when the area was packed with Christmas shoppers and party-goers. A warning was called into a local newspaper but the bombers gave the wrong location for device. A vigilant member of the public was hailed a hero after he reported seeing a suspicious object which turned out to be the bomb. The area was quickly evacuated.

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