Belfast Telegraph

Escalating series of bomb attacks, hoaxes and disruptions that underscore rising tensions

By Chris Kilpatrick

In a week when Northern Ireland has been reflecting on some of its darkest days, stark reminders still remain of those lurking in the shadows intent on inflicting bloodshed.

Four deadly letter bombs sent by dissident republican terrorists in recent days had the potential to kill indiscriminately. Addressed to Northern Ireland's Secretary of State, the PSNI chief constable, a senior police commander and a member of staff at the Public Prosecution Service, those who scrawled the individuals' names on the envelopes knew it was highly unlikely it would be they who opened them.

A postman told how he had carried one of the crude bombs in his bag for over an hour, completely unaware his life could have been ended at any moment.

The letter bombs followed two separate attempts on the lives of police officers, pipe bombs thrown at patrols in Belfast and Londonderry. Two fathers were gunned down in those cities this month.

Loyalists, too, have demonstrated there are those within their ranks prepared to resort to deadly violence, with a Sinn Fein MP this week threatened with being shot in his home.

Conor Murphy said he was told his life was under threat from the UVF, the same group widely believed to have carried out a horrific gun attack on a young woman in east Belfast.

Security alerts have become an almost daily occurrence, with many elaborate hoaxes aimed at causing maximum disruption and others possessing deadly capability – including that at a special needs school in Co Armagh.

Those responsible are getting the attention they crave, feeding a growing climate of fear demonstrated by the two false alarms at Belfast's courts and Stormont. The underlying hum of unease has gotten louder with tensions which have been simmering beneath the surface since the summer months, threatening to come to the boil.

Last week, the Justice Minister delivered a chilling warning to MLAs that a terrorist attack in the run-up to Christmas is "highly likely".

"It is clear that the terrorists are not concerned about the safety of anyone," David Ford added.

Senior police have refused to speculate on what they believe is behind the recent upsurge in terrorist activity.

Northern Ireland's politicians continue to strive behind the scenes – under the watch of US diplomat Richard Harass – in an effort to progress those contentious issues yet to be overcome 15 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

The ghastly scenes beamed across our televisions this week from the Shankill and Greysteel massacres 20 years ago are timely reminders of how far we have come.

Recent events show there is still much work to do.

Belfast Telegraph


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