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Police chief compares dissidents to Islamic State after night of riots

Lurgan gun and bomb attack on police was orchestrated by dissidents from behind bars in Maghaberry prison, claims local UUP councillor

By Deborah McAleese

Published 26/01/2016

Ammunition Technical Officers scour the rail line in Lurgan for bombs
Ammunition Technical Officers scour the rail line in Lurgan for bombs
The PSNI maintained a heavy presence in the town yesterday following a night of rioting
A sniffer dog roams around the Lake Street area which witnessed the worst of the disturbances
Ammunition Technical Officers scour the rail line in Lurgan for bombs

A gun and petrol bomb attack on police officers in Lurgan was plotted from behind bars by top dissident republicans, it has been claimed.

Police in the Co Armagh town remain on high alert after coming under sustained attack from rioters, some reportedly as young as eight years old, while attempting to make safe a potential bomb on the railway line.

The security alert ended yesterday after two suspicious objects were examined and both declared hoaxes.

A senior PSNI officer has compared those behind the brutal and sustained attack on police on Sunday night to Daesh, better known as Islamic State.

PSNI Superintendent David Moore said: "The people that are behind this have no ideology, they have nothing to offer, in many respects they can be compared to Daesh, they have got little to offer but destruction in their own communities."

The terrorist threat against police in the Lurgan area has become so severe that officers are having to exercise "extreme caution" when entering parts of the town, a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board has warned.

"There are pockets of the town which are dissident republican strongholds and officers have to be extremely cautious when policing those areas," said Jonathan Craig.

The DUP MLA added: "Officers would have known the risks when they went into that area on Sunday, but it is their job to keep people safe and that is what officers were doing when they came under attack.

"While what has happened is alarming, nobody should be that surprised. These dissidents will be trying to pull all sorts of stunts in the run-up to elections."

More than 100 petrol bombs were thrown at police during five hours of "serious and sustained" violence from Sunday night into the early hours of Monday morning at Lake Street, police said yesterday.

At one point a gunman fired at least one shot at police lines.

Officers had been lured into the area by a bomb warning at the railway line, leading to the cancellation of trains. A total of 25 paint bombs, bricks and other masonry were also hurled by an aggressive crowd which gathered at around 9pm and remained until early in the morning.

Helicopter air support, specially trained riot police from other parts of Northern Ireland and dog teams had to be brought in to deal with the trouble.

No officers or members of the public were injured, although police vehicles were damaged.

There has been an increase in dissident republican activity in Lurgan in recent months, with several bomb alerts causing disruption on the railway line.

UUP councillor for the town, Colin McCusker, said the finger of blame for recent unrest in the town was being pointed at some dissident republican prisoners.

"The perception is that certain people are pulling the strings from behind bars at Maghaberry. These dissidents are trying to show that they control Lurgan - not Sinn Fein, not the SDLP, not the police," said Mr McCusker.

MP David Simpson accused dissident terrorists of "holding the community to ransom", adding: "The kind of violence witnessed over the weekend was absolutely disgraceful. It would seem clear that dissident republican terrorists are responsible for this trouble, particularly given the orchestrated nature."

DUP councillor Carla Lockhart said: "There has been an increase in activity, but I don't believe the support is there for it. The majority of people in Lurgan just want to live peacefully.

"They don't want all the hassle this type of thing causes. People are having to put up with the disruption this causes to their day to day life and it is not fair."

SDLP councillor Joe Nelson added: "People are sick to the teeth of this. There are parts of Lurgan where the police are not able to deliver their full services because of these groups of dissidents. These groups are just harming their own areas. I've no idea what they think they are achieving."

Policing Board chairwoman Anne Connolly said officers were faced with a menacing situation.

"Police are clear that the violence was orchestrated and we are grateful that no-one was injured," she said.

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