Thursday 27 November 2014

Belfast police warned after explosive device thrown at vehicle

Michael McHugh

Published 15/03/2014 | 09:05

PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott (left) with assistant chief constable Drew Harris
PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott (left) with assistant chief constable Drew Harris

The Police Federation has warned officers to be vigilant after members of the force in Northern Ireland escaped injury during a bomb attack.

Chairman Terry Spence vowed dissident republicans opposed to the peace process would not succeed in plunging the country back into full-scale conflict after an explosive device was detonated near a vehicle patrol in West Belfast last night using a command wire.

Extremists have redoubled efforts to kill, and officers were urged to tighten personal security after a separate under-car bomb was found a relatively short distance away earlier yesterday.

Members of a Filipino family were treated for shock and their car was damaged after a device was targeted at four officers inside their Landrover near the City Cemetery off the Falls Road. Children aged 16, 13 and 11 were passengers caught up in the bombing.

Mr Spence said: "The officers were fortunate to escape unhurt in what was a clear attempt to murder and maim. Those responsible have absolutely no regard or respect for life.

"It was a reckless, cowardly and futile action by individuals who have nothing to offer."

The blast blew a chunk of masonry out of the wall of the cemetery.

Sinn Fein has also blamed and condemned dissident republicans.

Mr Spence added: "My members will continue undeterred to offer a professional service to the community. These terrorists will not succeed in their goal and I would appeal to anyone with information to get in touch with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) so that these mindless people are brought to justice.

"Police officers and the public must remain vigilant as it is the obvious intention of desperate dissident republicans to attract a headline in the run-up to St Patrick's Day."

The Falls Road area was busy and 200 yards away more than 500 people were enjoying a night organised by the Feile (festival) community organisation.

Many people passed the site of the explosion, Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey said. Police did not immediately attend to begin their investigation, a standard precaution against a follow up attack.

The earlier under-car bomb fell from the vehicle and failed to explode, and even though the target has not been positively identified, the PSNI has not ruled out the possibility it was meant for one of their officers.

The device was discovered at Blacks Road, a busy route close to the M1 not far from Woodbourne police station.

Dissident republicans have been blamed for planting the bomb in what appears to have been a deliberate attempt to embarrass Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who were in Washington to meet senior members of the Obama administration as part of St Patrick's Day celebrations.

Similar under-car bombs have been used several times before - once to kill Constable Ronan Kerr near Omagh, Co Tyrone, in April 2011, and to seriously injure two officers in separate attacks near Castlederg, Co Tyrone, in May 2008 and Randalstown, Co Antrim, in January 2010.

There have also been attempts to kill off-duty officers in Belfast, some of them close to PSNI headquarters, and a soldier in Bangor, Co Down.

Republicans opposed to the peace process also shot dead PSNI officer Stephen Carroll in March 2009, but after the murder of prison officer David Black on the M1 in November 2012, police mounted an unprecedented surveillance operation against various factions as well making significant arrests.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said: "This attack is a blatant disregard not just for lives of police officers but also for safety of whole community in west Belfast.

"It should be condemned by all right-thinking people."

A PSNI spokesman said the device was left in place at the cemetery and detonated using a command wire.

Superintendent Barbara Gray said: "This was not only a deliberate attempt to kill police officers but was an attack on the community of West Belfast, and it is only through good fortune that no-one, either police or civilian was seriously injured or killed last night.

"As with all incidents a review of the police response will be carried out to ensure that we do everything possible to provide the highest quality response to the communities of North and West Belfast."

Detectives are appealing for anyone who noticed any suspicious activity in the area of the cemetery in recent days or anyone who has any information which may be of assistance to their investigation to contact them.

One adult and three children were in the passing car that was struck during the explosion, causing considerable damage to their vehicle and leaving them badly shaken.

Stormont justice minister David Ford said: "They are not supported and their actions are futile.

"The people behind this attack clearly planned it but I wonder what their plan was had members of the public been injured or killed?

"The Falls Road is a main route with a constant flow of traffic and pedestrians and it was totally irresponsible to carry out this attack on the local community."

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