The large bomb found in Fermanagh on Friday is part of what is believed to be a carefully thought out strategy by the newly formed IRA group to create a political crisis in Northern Ireland in the run-up to the G8 summit of world leaders in June. Before the bomb was discovered 16 miles from the site where the G8 leaders will meet, two attacks by the group terming itself the "IRA" in Northern Ireland earlier this month were designed to create a crisis to coincide with high level British-Irish meetings including the annual meeting of the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister, it has been learned.
The thwarted IRA mortar attack in Derry earlier this month was planned to coincide with a meeting of British and Irish parliamentarians when it was being addressed by the Taoiseach, just across the Border in Letterkenny on March 3, it has been learned. The mortars, primed and ready to fire, were intercepted by PSNI officers on the outskirts of Derry.
It is believed this attack was to be followed by a 500lb bomb to kill members of the PSNI in Belfast, to coincide with the meeting of the Taoiseach and Mr Cameron in London on March 11.
The attacks, if they had been successful, would also have created a security nightmare in the run-up to the G8 summit, the biggest political event ever to take place on the island of Ireland, designed to showcase the Northern Ireland peace settlement.
When Mr Cameron announced the summit would be held in the Lough Erne Resort on June 17 and 18, he said: "I think this will be a brilliant advertisement for Northern Ireland. I want the world to see just what a fantastic place Northern Ireland is – a great place for business, a great place for investment, a place with an incredibly educated and trained workforce ready to work for international businesses."
Mr Obama and the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia will attend. It is not clear if President Putin of Russia will be there as he did not attend the last meeting in the US.
It would also be a major event for the Republic as Ireland holds the EU presidency, meaning the Taoiseach would be entitled to attend.
Security measures are being substantially strengthened in Northern Ireland, with the PSNI acquiring unmanned drones to monitor the area around the summit meeting. The attacks in Derry and Belfast will have underlined the need for much greater security.
The Belfast bomb only partly detonated. A call was made to lure police to the bomb on a slip road off the M5 motorway in north Belfast. Three officers were standing nearby when the device was supposed to have detonated by remote control. Had it done so, it would have killed them, the PSNI said. It is not clear why the bomb failed to detonate.
The attack was on the evening of Saturday, March 9. Had it exploded, it would have generated front-page news about the reappearance of republican terrorism on the eve of the prime ministerial meeting in London the following Monday. Mr Cameron would inevitably have been asked if enough security was in place to ensure the safety of the world leaders coming to Northern Ireland.
The attacks mark a major escalation in the so-called dissident campaign and are a sign that it is intent on creating a crisis in Northern Ireland.
Police sources say the mortars and bomb are not of any type used by the small dissident groups such as those terming themselves the Real or Continuity IRA. They believe Provisional IRA bomb-makers, who had been in retirement for years, are back at work and making high-quality weapons again.
They further believe that the mortar attack was designed to send out a strong symbolic message to the British government. The mortars and equipment in Derry were identical to those used to attack 10 Downing Street in February 1991. One of those mortars exploded in the garden as the war cabinet of Prime Minister John Major was in session during the first Gulf War. The explosion shattered windows in the cabinet room but caused little injury. The van carrying the mortars, parked in Whitehall, also had an incendiary bomb on board which exploded after the mortars were fired.
Police on both sides of the Border believe that the 'new' IRA includes members who were previously supportive of Sinn Fein but are now intent on wrecking the political agreement underpinning the Stormont Assembly. If the attacks had succeeded, they would have brought the renewed terrorism campaign to international attention – and caused further damage to the reputations and economies of both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The new terror group first emerged last July when it issued a statement saying it was bringing together elements of the various dissident groups. The statement, signed by "the Army Council, IRA", said: "The leadership of the Irish Republican Army remains committed to the full realisation of the ideals and principles enshrined in the Proclamation of 1916."
It is believed the organisation is headed by a former Provisional IRA man from west Belfast who was released from a lengthy prison sentence under the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.
The four mortars seized in Derry were to be launched from the back of a van from which the roof had been cut out – as was the case in the Downing Street attack. It is believed it was to be used in an attack on the main PSNI station in Strand Road.
After the mortars were intercepted, Mr Kenny said he was "glad that these dissidents were apprehended and that these mortars taken out of commission". No reference was made to the coincidence of his attendance at the British-Irish Parliamentary Council in Letterkenny IT, which was also attended by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said: "It is a grim reminder of how severe the terrorist threat remains in Northern Ireland."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the former Provisional IRA chief of staff, also condemned the attack, saying: "If the people involved in these actions believe they can, by attempting to carry out armed actions, undermine the political process, they are greatly mistaken."