Police patrol may have spooked terrorist team with 600lbs van bomb
The huge border van bomb abandoned outside Newry last week only needed a flick of a switch to be fully armed.
Security sources believe the 600lbs device was on its way to a specific target, and was not intended for a roadside attack on police.
The bomb was planted inside a copy-cat or ‘ringer’ vehicle, its numberplate copied from another van.
There was no telephone warning from whatever terror faction was transporting the device to say it had been abandoned.
Last Thursday a member of the public spotted the van with its engine running and contacted police.
That call sparked a major border security alert, with details of the device emerging at the weekend. The 600lbs of homemade explosives —finely ground fertiliser — had been packed inside two blue barrels and the bomb had been fitted with a copper booster tube and detonator.
“There was nothing missing,” a security source told the Belfast Telegraph, indicating that a flick of a switch would have meant the device was fully armed.
Police do not know the precise target for the bomb, when the device was abandoned or why.
One source spoke of dissidents posing “an enhanced level of threat” and the police having had “a lot more people out” in recent days.
So, one possibility is that a scout car travelling ahead of the van carrying the device may have spotted a police patrol and alerted the bombing team behind.
Up to this point, nothing has been said to suggest the device was intended for a roadside attack on police. It was not that type of bomb, which usually involves a command wire running to a firing point.
One source said it was more likely “going to a target”, possibly a police base.
This bomb story emerged just as arms were found in north Belfast, and, separately, the discovery of another device under a vehicle.
Police seized two sawn-off shotguns that were found along with a quantity of ammunition and drugs.
The under-car booby-trap bomb was discovered at a garage on the Ballygomartin Road only days after the vehicle had been bought, probably with the bomb already attached to it.
In terms of a target, an informed source told the Belfast Telegraph it was not security forces-related.
But the most serious development is in the discovery of that massive van bomb.
It is yet another indication of the continuing threat posed by the different dissident groups in Northern Ireland.
This war can’t be won, so explain its point
For some reason dissident republicans driving that 600lbs van bomb to a target stopped in their tracks.
We know it is not the type of device usually dug into the roadside designed to ambush police, but more the type of bomb constructed for an attack on a security base, court building or town centre.
This time it didn’t get to its intended target. The police said a lot of thought had been put into the bomb’s construction. It was a device that illustrates a continuing threat to kill and capacity to cause major destruction.
But this is only part of the dissident story. There is a pattern that shows bombs are often abandoned, fail to explode, only partially detonate or are not triggered for one reason or another. This, too, is a significant part of the dissident story.
It is not just about what they would term their ‘successes’, but also about what fails, and what that failure tells us.
It describes a campaign that cannot be sustained — that there are not the weapons to do so, and that they lack the necessary expertise, finance and support.
And knowing all this, it asks questions about strategy and purpose. The dissidents must know that these wars cannot be won.
So there is an onus on them to explain themselves; to explain what they are doing and why. But there is silence.
The dissidents cannot be ignored and nor will they be condemned off the stage.
But they must explain their actions, and should not be allowed to hide behind their silence.