Court told of chilling terror plot as two are refused bail
The chilling details of a terror plot to launch a multiple mortar attack have been revealed in court – including how those allegedly involved planned to destroy evidence and make their escape.
Two men from the Creggan area of Londonderry have been refused bail on a litany of terrorism charges.
In the dock were Seamus McLaughlin (35), from Eastway Gardens, and Gary McDaid (37), from Glenowen Park, who were both charged with having explosives with intent to endanger life, conspiracy to cause an explosion, and having a van for terrorist purposes.
Both men were dressed in T-shirts and jeans and only nodded to indicate that they understood the charges.
McDaid chewed gum throughout the short hearing and stood handcuffed between two security guards.
He waved to the large number of supporters who had packed into the courtroom secured by a large contingent of police officers.
A PSNI detective constable told the court she believed both men could be connected to the charges which related to an incident on March 3 when police stopped two vehicles on the Letterkenny Road at the junction with Lone Moor Road.
She said that McLaughlin was the driver of a white Citroen Berlingo van and McDaid was the driver of a motorcycle following the van.
Four mortar bombs packed with a substantial amount of explosives and ready to fire were discovered inside the van along with an incendiary device attached to a container of petrol which the police believed would have been used to destroy forensic evidence from the van after the mortars had been deployed.
Along with these devices, two 120-minute kitchen timers, marked A and B, two toggle switches in a plastic lunch box and a battery were found in the front of the van.
A mobile phone was sitting on the dash board which police believe was "for operational purposes".
The driver's seat was covered in plastic and the roof of the van had been cut away but taped over to give the appearance of normality, and McLaughlin was wearing rubber gloves and several layers of clothes, including a pair of high-visibility trousers under his jeans and forensic overshoes.
McDaid on the motorbike was in possession of a second helmet which police believed was for McLaughlin, who would be a pillion passenger after the planned attack.
Under questioning Mr McLaughlin refused to talk and did not give any account of his presence in the van or why he was in possession of mortars and forensic overshoes.
The detective told the court that McDaid's explanation for having the second helmet was because he was going to meet with his drug dealer and that he needed it because he was going to "take him to his stash".
McDaid also said that he was going to get petrol even though he had no money.
Bail was objected to on the grounds that "it is clear they are active members of a republican group and if released they will re-engage with their murderous, cowardly campaign to target police and security forces", she said.
She also said there was also a serious flight risk as the men lived just three miles from the border.
District Judge Barney McElholm refused bail and said there was "very, very strong" circumstantial evidence. Both defendants were remanded in custody to appear on March 28 via video-link.
Tensions boil over in standoff on court steps
By Donna Deeney
Supporters of the two men facing a litany of terror charges packed the steps of Londonderry's courthouse, making it a difficult and intimidating journey for those negotiating their way inside.
Inside, Courtroom Two was also packed with supporters even before Gary McDaid and Seamus McLaughlin arrived.
Police officers lined the walls in case of any disturbances.
Once the proceedings got under way the defendants, their families and friends sat quietly, exchanging only brief nods.
The relative calm inside was in complete contrast to the events outside the court after the two men were refused bail.
In the intervening minutes from McDaid and McLaughlin being taken from the dock and placed in the back of police cars, the crowd of about two dozen supporters congregated at the gate where the vehicles were due to pass through.
Once the men appeared a loud cheer came from the crowd and as soon as the courthouse gates parted attempts were made by the crowd to block it.
This was prevented by PSNI officers who were there in large numbers.
The tension moved up a notch as the crowd pushed against the police barrier and shouts of "SS RUC" coupled with expletives filled the air.
This scuffle, with both sides holding fast, continued for approximately 10 minutes before the police pushed the crowd across Bishop Street and corralled them on to the footpath on the opposite side of the road.
Traffic ground to a standstill and a rapid response ambulance on a call to the courthouse was hindered from progressing for a short while.
The two police vehicles with the defendants inside made their way out of the court grounds as the accused gave the crowd the thumbs up as they were sped down Bishop Street.