Belfast Telegraph

Checkpoints 'significant deterrent'

Almost 2,000 vehicles have been stopped at checkpoints designed to thwart dissident republicans in Belfast, police said.

Anti-peace process extremists have launched a wave of attacks, attempting to bomb a city centre car park close to one of Northern Ireland's main police stations and its central courts complex.

They have also sent letter bombs to senior police commanders and shot at patrols during a pre-Christmas surge in the number of attempts to kill.

Police have established more than 300 checkpoints during the busy pre-Christmas season but traders said signs were promising for a profitable festive period.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum said: "Our vehicle checkpoints are much more sporadic (than during the Troubles) but it is also unpredictable.

"The checkpoints are much shorter in length but they also have a significant deterrent effect so we achieve a greater balance between public reassurance and protection."

Shots were fired at police patrols in north and west Belfast over recent days. Vehicles and equipment were sprayed with 10 bullets from a military-grade weapon as they passed the Ardoyne area.

Recently a driver was forced to transport an explosive device to Victoria Square shopping centre car park in Belfast. The detonator exploded but failed to set off the main bomb.

Police have organised 323 checkpoints, where cars may be stopped and their contents and drivers screened.

A total of 1,784 vehicles have been stopped between November 25 and December 10.

Mr McCrum said that had not impacted on the commercial life of the city.

Senior commanders have said the threat from dissidents remains severe. They have killed two police officers, two soldiers and a prison officer in recent years.

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said: "There is a threat coming from dissident republican groups to the city centre and wider provincial towns.

"The only aim of terrorism is to cause disruption."

Paul McMahon, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce and director of a large city centre shopping centre, said the indications were that Christmas would be positive and strong.

"All of the signs are that it is going to be a busy Christmas and we are open for business," he added.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs Of Ulster, said the city's bars were thriving.

"We are doing well, the recession has started to lift and we are starting to see that in the city."

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said recent security incidents were despicable.

"These terrorists have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland and we will not allow them to create a climate of fear in the community," she added.

"The Chief Constable (Matt Baggott) has assured me that PSNI are doing all that they can to ensure that Belfast is safe for shoppers and tourists in the run-up to Christmas.

"Belfast and Northern Ireland are open for business, which is why I'm supporting the traders in the city centre today.

"I would urge everyone to remain vigilant over the coming weeks. It is vital that the general public work with PSNI to help protect against terrorist attacks and other criminality so we all work together to counter the destructive efforts of the small minority intent on causing harm."

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