Belfast Telegraph

Ciaran Barnes: Although a wounded beast, New IRA has the ability to lash out in the most violent manner

Chief Constable Simon Byrne
Chief Constable Simon Byrne
Ciaran Barnes

By Ciaran Barnes

The car bomb murder attempt on a high-profile police officer is a stark reminder for new Chief Constable Simon Byrne that Northern Ireland is unlike any other part of the UK.

Policing here brings with it risks not encountered anywhere else on these islands - something the incoming PSNI boss is quickly discovering.

The officer targeted in Saturday's booby-trap attack owes his life to an eagle-eyed golfer who spotted the device attached to the underside of his vehicle.

Had he driven off from the car park at Shandon Park Golf Club he would probably be dead. A slain police officer is the last thing that Mr Byrne would want in his inbox when he takes over as Chief Constable from George Hamilton, who retires at the end of the month.

Violent dissident republicans are being blamed for the murder bid - with the New IRA most likely responsible. Of the current dissident organisations it is the only one with the capability and weaponry to mount such an attack. Be in no doubt, it was carried out deliberately to coincide with a changing of the guard at the top of the PSNI.

It was the New IRA saying to Simon Byrne in the clearest of terms: "We haven't gone away."

While the group lacks the manpower and is not well-enough equipped to mount consistent attacks like its Provisional IRA parent, it certainly has the resources to strike every so often. Relatives of prison officers Adrian Ismay and David Black, murdered by the New IRA, know this only too well.

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So too do the family of writer Lyra McKee, shot dead by a teenage New IRA gunman six weeks ago. The wave of revulsion and condemnation that followed the author's senseless killing has only made the dissident gang more determined to carry on its campaign of violence.

Tellingly, in Saturday's failed murder bid the explosives placed under the police officer's car stayed fixed. Four similar attacks by the New IRA in Belfast and Derry City failed when the devices fell from the target vehicles.

The bomb which killed Adrian Ismay dropped off and exploded on the road. He survived the initial blast but died 11 days later.

Saturday's attack suggests the New IRA has found a way around this, and has moved on from using powerful magnets taken from taxi signs to attach bombs to cars - its previous modus operandi.

Detectives investigating the murder bid will also be keen to discover if Semtex was used.

The New IRA has limited amounts of the explosive, which was stolen from Provisional IRA arms dumps prior to decommissioning a decade ago.

The discovery of 1.5 kilos of Semtex in the New Lodge area of north Belfast in 2016 - enough to make three under-car booby-trap bombs - dealt it a major blow.

So did the destruction of two AK47 machine-guns, two shotguns, a rifle and three pipe-bombs in an accidental boiler house fire in west Belfast last November. These guns made up most of the organisation's weaponry in the city.

While there can be no doubt that these losses severely weakened the New IRA, the weekend murder bid shows that although it is a wounded beast, it retains the ability of lashing out in the most violent manner.

Belfast Telegraph

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