Belfast Telegraph

Republican Seamus McLaughlin pleads guilty over failed mortar attack

By John Cassidy

A dissident republican has pleaded guilty to charges over a foiled mortar bomb attack on a police station last year.

Seamus McLaughlin (36) confessed to having four "ready to deploy'' improvised mortars and an improvised explosive incendiary device with intent to endanger life on March 3, 2013.

McLaughlin, who appeared handcuffed in the dock of Belfast Crown Court, was rearraigned on a number of charges and also pleaded guilty to possessing a Citroen Berlingo for the purposes of the commission, preparation or instigation in an act of terrorism.

He was remanded back into custody to await sentence.

No details were given yesterday of the nature of the offences which McLaughlin (36), of Eastway Gardens in Londonderry's Creggan estate, pleaded guilty to.

However, in January this year during a successful compassionate bail application by McLaughlin, a Crown lawyer told Belfast Crown Court that the defendant was the driver of a white Citroen Berlingo van which police believe was driving in convoy with a motorcycle which was allegedly driven by Gary McDaid. The court heard the van had travelled on Letterkenny Road before it was stopped by police.

"The roof of the van had been cut open and the hole covered over with tape,'' said the prosecution lawyer.

"Inside the rear of the van police found four mortar tubes loaded with mortars and it was ballasted in order to keep the mortars in position to fire.

"In the front passenger seat was a timer power unit which was connected to the firing mechanism of the mortar.

"The mortar tubes were loaded, they were connected together and were ready to deploy. They were ready to go. Clearly they were capable of causing damage to property and persons at its intended target. It was a serious offence in its nature. The person travelling behind on the motorbike, Mr McDaid, was carrying a second helmet.''

The lawyer said it was the prosecution case that once the timer power unit had been set, McLaughlin was to have been taken away by McDaid.

The court heard a blast incendiary-type device was found in the footwell of the front passenger seat.

"It is the prosecution case that once the mortars had been fired the secondary device was to have exploded in an effort to destroy any forensic evidence.''

The trial of a second defendant, McDaid (37), of Glenowen Park, Derry, who is on bail charged with having explosives with intent to endanger life and having them in suspicious circumstances, is due to start in September.

BACKGROUND

The seizure in March last year of a van laden with four mortars minutes away from Strand Road PSNI station in Derry marked a high-profile success for police and intelligence services on both sides of the border.

A senior PSNI officer said at the time a massive swoop on the primed bombs as they were driven along the Letterkenny Road had saved Derry from "mass casualties". Dozens of armed officers were involved in the operation.

It is believed a tip-off from Garda helped the PSNI foil the rocket attack.

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