Missiles 'intended to kill police'
Terrorists who prepared to launch two mortar explosives in south Armagh had planned to kill police officers, a senior commander said today.
The devices were discovered near the village of Cullyhanna, not far from the Irish border.
Several families had to leave their homes and early this afternoon police were still involved in a major security operation to declare the area safe for residents to return.
Investigators did not say what the bombers' target was but it has been suggested it may have been intended to down a police helicopter as the missiles were pointed skywards.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief inspector Davy Beck said: "We know only too well the death and destruction such devices can cause and there is no doubt that the intention of those behind these devices is to kill police officers who serve this community on a daily basis.
"We also know how inaccurate and uncontrollable these type of devices are and to leave them in an area accessible to the public shows the total disregard these people have for the local community in Cullyhanna.
"Their actions can only be described as ruthless and mindless."
The finger of suspicion has been pointed at dissident republicans opposed to the peace process, who have murdered two soldiers, two police officers and a prison guard in recent years.
The level of threat posed is still severe.
There has been a large security presence in south Armagh, including a police helicopter and army bomb disposal experts who carried out a controlled explosion. Two dark-coloured tubes around 10ft long and resembling domestic drain piping were observed at the scene.
Police carrying large automatic weapons guarded a rural approach road within sight of a whitewashed house and a dull thud was heard as the device was detonated by a military robot.
Soldiers used sniffer dogs and metal detectors to scour hedgerows and culverts. Many nearby residents had to leave their homes overnight, with the area sealed off for two nights.
In March, a mortar attack on a police station in Londonderry was foiled after the security services stopped a van with four viable devices primed and ready to launch. Mortars have also been found in Belfast.
Mr Beck thanked members of the community for their patience. A number of homes were evacuated during the operation and all but one have been able to return to their houses.
The senior officer said a full investigation had begun and appealed for members of the public to give information.
Stormont justice minister David Ford said: " Those who planted these devices had death on their minds.
"Their reckless and murderous actions contrast with those of the police and bomb disposal team who have been working to protect the local community.
"I regret the disruption to those forced to move out of their homes, but it is clear who has caused that."