Belfast Telegraph

Chief 'resolute' after letter bomb

Two letter bombs addressed to Northern Ireland's Chief Constable and his senior commander in Londonderry have been intercepted.

Dissident republicans are being blamed for posting the viable explosive devices which were concealed in parcels and were discovered by postal workers this morning.

A suspicious package for Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief Matt Baggott was found at Royal Mail's Mallusk office in Co Antrim during the early hours of this morning. It had been addressed to the PSNI headquarters at Knock on the outskirts of east Belfast.

A second bomb intended for the Derry area commander Chief Inspector John Burrows was later discovered at another sorting office in Lisburn, Co Antrim.

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said both devices were designed to kill.

"We are very lucky we are not dealing with a fatality this morning," he said. "It is a definite line of inquiry at this stage that it is a dissident republican grouping of some sort."

Dissident republicans are also believed to have been behind two other bomb attacks on police this week. Officers escaped injury when pipe bombs were thrown at patrol vehicles in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim and in Derry city centre.

Dissidents also claimed responsibility for firebombing a shop in Belfast city centre last week.

Mr Kerr said it was fortunate no-one has been killed or seriously injured.

He insisted that morale was high among the rank-and-file officers and said they would not be deterred from doing their duty.

"We will continue to deliver a policing service to the people of Northern Ireland irrespective of this threat," he added.

"We have been very successful and we will continue to be successful in disrupting the activities of these small groups."

Both sorting offices had to evacuated while the Army's bomb squads worked for several hours to make the viable devices safe.

Royal Mail said there would be a knock-on effect with disruption of services throughout the day.

The threat from republican extremists opposed to the peace process has been deemed severe by the Home Office. They have been responsible for the deaths of two soldiers, a police officer and a prison guard in recent years.

Mr Kerr acknowledged there had been spike in attempts to murder police officers during the past month but declined to speculate on the reasons for the rise.

He added: "These groups remain dangerous. They may be small, they lack any political objective, they certainly don't have any support within their own community but they remain dangerous - not just to police officers but to the community at large."

He said Mr Baggott remained committed to tackling terrorism and delivering day-to-day policing despite the threat to his life.

Mr Kerr said: "The Chief Constable is as resolute as his police service to make sure we are not in any way deterred."

There has been widespread condemnation of the all the attacks.

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford branded those responsible "senseless".

He said: "Those responsible for this senseless attempt to attack the Chief Constable have absolutely no place in a normal society. The Chief Constable plays a vital role leading a police service that works right across our community, helping us recover from the dark days and he deserves the support of all.

"Those who sent this device have no concern whatsoever for the staff at the Mallusk sorting office, whose vigilance is to be commended."

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers described the attack as "callous and reckless" and said the PSNI had her full support.

In a statement, Ms Villiers said: "The Chief Constable undertakes a challenging role in delivering community policing in a difficult threat environment.

"He and his officers have my full support and I am certain that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland will condemn this disgraceful bomb attempt and others which have taken place over recent days."

Chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board Anne Connolly praised the PSNI and postal workers.

She said: "Once again there was complete disregard for the serious harm that could have been caused to many.

"The PSNI are working to keep the community safe from harm whilst those responsible for these devices simply don't care who is hurt."

The police are appealing for members of the public to be vigilant and report any suspicious packages particularly in the run up to Christmas.

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