Dissident bombers 'planned to open fire on officers'
A dissident terror faction says it planned to open fire on police during Friday night's mortar attack on a PSNI Land Rover.
The claim was made in a detailed statement by the group in a contact with this newspaper.
Dissidents claim the mortar struck the police vehicle – but this had already been dismissed by a PSNI source, who said only minimal damage had been caused by shrapnel.
The attack happened on the Falls Road late on Friday night. The device, triggered by command wire, caused a loud explosion heard across Belfast.
"The IRA had a second active service unit with automatic weapons close by with the intention of engaging [police] personnel who exited the vehicles," the dissident statement read.
There is no way of verifying this claim.
On Friday night, West Belfast MP Paul Maskey criticised the PSNI response time, but this statement from the dissidents, if true, underscores the need for a cautious police response in such situations.
The type of mortar used on Friday is known to be part of the dissident arsenal. Similar devices have been seized in police operations in north Belfast and Londonderry.
Dissidents described the bomb as an "explosively formed projectile" and repeated an earlier claim that it contained explosives from a new Semtex supply. The statement also threatened further attacks on the PSNI – describing officers as "legitimate targets".
In what was a clear reference to the killing of police constable Ronan Kerr, the statement read: "The IRA has demonstrated its ability to execute PSNI personnel in the past and will continue to do so in the future."
Last night Mr Maskey, in whose constituency the attack took place, said the attack had been reckless.
"The Falls Road was very busy at the time of the attack and an innocent family's car was damaged. This family was very shaken up. Is this group now saying they are a legitimate target?" he asked.
"There was a pregnant woman who had to attend hospital in the wake of the attack – was she a legitimate target? They have to answer these questions."
The DUP's Jonathan Craig said the explosion had been indiscriminate.
"It comes as no surprise that these people are trying to take on the mantle of the IRA. They are rebels without a cause," he said. "There is no community support for them, no matter which community you mean."