Seized mortar ‘was for attack north of border’
A mortar seized on the M1 motorway in the Republic was fully primed and ready to be used in a terrorist attack in Northern Ireland, gardai said last night.
Senior officers said they were satisfied they had foiled an attack by the dissident group, Oglaigh na hEireann on a security target north of the border.
This group, a splinter of the Real IRA, is regarded as the most dangerous of the three main dissident groups.
The mortar had been collected from a shed at Dromiskin, Co Louth, and was about to be driven across the border when the vehicle was intercepted by members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU).
In a follow-up operation in Dromiskin gardai raided the shed at the rear of a house and found components for another mortar.
The bomb parts were heavily wrapped and the Garda operation in the shed moved slowly because of concerns that the package might have been booby-trapped.
Yesterday afternoon an Irish Army bomb disposal team was escorted to the site by gardai to examine the find.
The initial seizure followed weeks of investigation involving the Irish Special Branch, national surveillance unit and local gardai.
Gardai were watching a car with a Northern Ireland registration plate and the ERU were ordered to intercept it after it was driven onto the M1 at around 9.30pm on Tuesday.
Two men in their 20s from Armagh city were arrested. The mortar was found in the back of the car, which had the back seats down, and the bomb disposal team was called.
The Irish Army last night described the operation as technically difficult and said the bomb was sophisticated.
It included tubing and a timer power unit and was packed with homemade explosives.
Within minutes of the seizure gardai arrested a third man at a service station about a mile away.
This man is regarded as a key figure in Oglaigh na hEireann in the north Louth area and suspected of being a henchman of the organisation's leader.
During the raid in Dromiskin gardai arrested a fourth man. He is also well-known to gardai and is suspected of involvement with Oglaigh na hEireann.
All four were detained under Section 30 of the Irish Offences Against the State Act and were being held for questioning last night at Drogheda, Balbriggan and Santry Garda stations. They can be held without charge for up to three days.