Belfast Telegraph

PSNI chief condemns attempt to kill officers after mortar found in Strabane

Forensics officers at the scene in Strabane where an explosive device was found
Forensics officers at the scene in Strabane where an explosive device was found
A robot carries out a controlled explosion on mortar
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has described Saturday's discovery of a deadly improvised explosive device in a housing estate overlooking a Co Tyrone police station as "another callous attempt to kill officers".

More than 60 people were evacuated from their homes in the Church View area of Strabane after a member of the public spotted the suspect device resting on a wall near the town's police station on Bowling Green at 8.30am.

It came several hours after a pizza delivery driver had his vehicle hijacked in the nearby Ballycolman estate. The car was found on fire in Evish Road shortly before 10pm on Friday night. Police have linked the incidents.

A 33-year-old man was arrested under terrorism legislation in connection with the incident. He was in police custody yesterday.

On Saturday morning Army bomb disposal experts were called to Church View to examine the suspicious object, which was found to be a mortar-type device.

The ensuing security operation lasted for 17 hours. The device was made safe and families were allowed back into their homes shortly before 1am.

Commenting on social media, Mr Byrne said that the incident highlighted the need to recruit more officers.

"Another callous attempt to kill or maim our officers and a stark reminder why we need to grow the PSNI to 7,500 officers to grow our presence in communities to deal with this severe threat," he wrote.

PSNI Detective Inspector Andrew Hamlin said that the device had the capacity to kill and demonstrated how little regard those responsible have for human life.

"It is our view that this device was placed in order to attack police officers at the nearby police station but it had the capacity to kill or seriously injure anyone in the vicinity," he said.

"This is not the first time a deadly device has been left in a public space recently and serves to remind us all how little the terrorists responsible care for the lives of local people.

"At this time we are linking this incident to the hijacking of a delivery driver's car in the Mount Sion area at around 9.40pm on Friday.

"A fake order was placed with a pizza outlet from a phone box on Bridge Street and when the driver arrived at the stated address, his orange-coloured Fiat Sedici was taken from him by three men. It was subsequently discovered on fire at Evish Road around 45 minutes later.

"I am keen to hear from anyone who saw the orange Fiat in the town or who noticed anything out of the ordinary in the Church View area on Friday night. Detectives can be contacted on 101 quoting reference number 371 07/09/19.

"We are continuing to conduct enquiries in the area and this morning arrested a 33-year-old man under terrorism legislation. He remains in police custody."

Political representatives condemned the alert, including Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith, in which pensioners were forced to leave their homes.

Writing on social media, Mr Smith said: "The device found in Strabane this weekend continues to demonstrate the utter disregard terrorists have for those who endeavour to keep us safe and for the communities caught up in the disruption.

"It's disgraceful. There's no place in society for those who carry out such actions."

Sinn Fein MP Orfhlaith Begley said those responsible for the bomb have nothing to offer.

The West Tyrone MP said: "The discovery of a bomb in the Church View area of Strabane must be condemned. This was an attack on the entire community. Thankfully no one was injured in this disgraceful incident.

"It only served to bring disruption and fear to the local community in Strabane, who reject this dangerous and futile action.

"Those responsible have nothing to offer society and need to end their attacks against the community."

West Tyrone DUP MLA Tom Buchanan condemned those responsible for the mortar.

"This device and those responsible for it are a stark reminder of those who are determined to drag Northern Ireland back to violence," he said.

"The threat from republican terrorists has been all too clear in recent weeks and this has been yet another attempt to murder police officers.

"These terrorists must be brought to justice, but that will require the assistance of everyone in the community.

"I would urge anyone with information to pass it to the police."

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has described the attack as a "diabolical and cowardly" attempt to murder officers and members of the public.

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