Diehard republicans brought guns back onto the streets of Northern Ireland on Saturday, firing shots during a “sinister show of strength” in a Lurgan cemetery.
The Continuity IRA Easter terror display came as Sunday Life learned that PSNI detectives have foiled a plot to kill a senior police officer.
The dissidents planned to leave a booby-trap bomb at his father’s grave.
This newspaper is not identifying the top cop who was the target of the murder bid.
However, we can reveal that the PSNI has recordings of dissidents openly discussing the attack which was at an advanced stage.
The paramilitaries involved in the bomb plan belong to the Continuity IRA – the hardline anti-peace process gang behind the terror event at St Colman’s Cemetery in Lurgan.
In 2009 the organisation murdered PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll just three miles away in Craigavon.
Yesterday around a dozen masked Continuity IRA members carrying flags led a republican flute band on a procession around the graveyard and onto the North Circular Road.
After a number of speeches a young gunman, who had his face covered, emerged from a colour party and fired three shots into the air.
Clearly nervous, he initially forgot to take the safety catch off the weapon and twice clicked the trigger without anything happening.
After managing to get the gun to fire he ran off and clambered through a hedge at the side of the cemetery.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson condemned the display and questioned why police were not in the area despite having prior knowledge of the Continuity IRA parade.
He told Sunday Life: “I’m very concerned that guns were produced and that shots were fired.
“Police need to investigate who organised and took part in this sinister show of strength.
“Given that there was no distinguishable police presence this raises questions as to who made this decision and why.”
In previous years when masked Continuity IRA members have descended on St Colman’s Cemetery for Easter Rising commemorations a PSNI helicopter has hovered overhead.
But yesterday there was absolutely no sign of the police, a fact not lost on dissident supporters in the graveyard who commented on the lack of a security force presence.
Moments earlier they listened while a Continuity IRA spokesman said: “We salute our POWs and applaud their resolution in the face of the ongoing attempts of the British government, and the puppet Stormont regime, to break their spirit and criminalise their cause.
“There can be no let up in the resistance to British rule.”
Although small the Continuity IRA – which has its stronghold in Lurgan’s Kilwilkie estate – can be deadly.
Sunday Life can reveal its leaders planned to murder a top cop during one of his regular visits to his dad’s grave.
It the attack had been successful it would have been the second time the terror gang has killed a PSNI officer in recent years.
A source with knowledge of the plot, said: “The Continuity IRA is clearly aware that a very senior policeman makes regular visits to his father’s graveside, almost at the same time every week.
“The plan was to attach a booby trap bomb next to the headstone which would be detonated when he laid flowers there.
“Luckily the dissidents involved were recorded talking about the attack and the officer in question was warned.”
The insider explained how Continuity IRA leaders had no regard for the public outcry leaving a bomb in a cemetery would provoke.
“It didn’t bother them if it meant murdering a senior police officer,” added our source.
“Nor did the fact that the bomb could have killed anyone standing near the graveside, including children who often run around cemeteries climbing over graves.”