Dissident republicans have been blamed for a series of bomb scares across Belfast bringing the city to a standstill — in a chilling reminder of the height of the Troubles.
Commuters trying to get home from work yesterday afternoon were caught up in heavy tailbacks and diversions as police examined locations around the city following a succession of telephone warnings beginning at about 3.30pm.
The large number of alerts stretched resources as police and army bomb experts rushed to the scenes of numerous bomb scares at main arterial routes, railway lines, minor roads and shopping centres around the city.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he had no doubt dissident republicans were to blame for the latest campaign of disruption, which came as police and Army personnel also dealt with four separate alerts in Londonderry, one at a shopping centre in Ballymena and another on the railway line outside Newry.
The M2 was closed in both |directions between the Templepatrick and Greencastle junctions for over an hour and Army Technical Officers were tasked to the scene.
A PSNI spokesman said the area was reopened to traffic when nothing untoward was found.
A security alert at Fortwilliam roundabout in north Belfast, sparked as a result of a telephone warning at 3.48pm, was also declared a hoax when no suspicious devices were found at the scene.
In east Belfast, both Wandsworth Road off the Belmont Road and Mount Street South off My Ladys Road were closed after two telephone warnings were made at 3.50pm and 3.53pm respectively.
Stockman’s Lane in south Belfast, one of the main routes leading to the city from the M1, was also closed following the discovery of a suspicious object shortly before 4pm. The alert ended shortly before 7pm but police remained at the scene for some time after.
Officers were also called to Forestside shopping centre in Knockbreda at about 6pm after a telephone caller claimed a device may have been left in the area. The incident was declared a hoax by police at 7pm.
Meanwhile, a controlled explosion was carried out on a suspect device left on a bus by two masked men who boarded the vehicle near Ladybrook Park in west Belfast at about 2.40pm.
They threatened the driver and left the suspicious device on board the vehicle. Army bomb experts were sent to the scene which was cordoned off and residents were evacuated from their homes for over four hours while the area was made safe.
The railway line between Central Station and Stranmillis was also closed just after 6pm and services were cancelled while the security services examined the area. A PSNI spokesman said he was unable to say whether a telephone warning had been made in relation to the alert, which ended at about 7.30pm.
A section of the Malone Road in south Belfast was also closed after a telephone warning was received. The alert was declared a deliberate hoax at 8.30pm.
The bomb scares caused massive disruption throughout the city with police advising motorists to avoid the city centre.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “There is no doubt republicans are trying to disrupt life for people in Northern Ireland. At the same time they are trying to frighten off potential investment in the country.
“They offer absolutely no hope to anyone, especially to the younger generation who in a climate of growing unemployment need to know there is an environment in which their futures can be secured and there is the prospect of being able to find a job.
“If they think they can undermine the political progress we have made they are mistaken. I hope the police are now given the resources they need to bring the people behind the disruption to justice.”
Sinn Fein South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey said: “The mass disruption caused by these actions succeeded only in inconveniencing workers, students, businesses and people just going about their daily routine.
“Can these people explain to the citizens of Belfast just what they hope to achieve by these activities? When are they going to accept that there is little or no support or tolerance for their very existence, let alone their activities? They are besmirching the proud name of republicanism.”
SDLP South Belfast MP Alisdair McDonnell also condemned the alerts: “Those responsible for these attacks on our city have no respect for its people. All they are doing is bringing disruption to the life of our community.”