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Monday 24 July 2017

Dissidents 'to target election'

Security summit to plan action following barracks bombing

Tom Brady Security Editor

ANTI-TERROR chiefs are drafting plans to combat an anticipated upsurge in dissident-republican violence in the North in the run-up to next month's general election.

A fresh cross-Border security summit is imminent in the wake of yesterday's car bomb attack near the Northern headquarters of the British security service MI5 -- barely 20 minutes after policing powers had been officially handed over to local politicians for the first time in 38 years.

Officials on both sides of the Border were last night finalising arrangements for the summit, which will be held within the next seven days in Belfast.

It follows telephone talks yesterday between Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and the North's new justice minister, Alliance party leader David Ford.

The two politicians will be accompanied by Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott as they review tactics.

The bomb was in a hijacked taxi, whose driver was forced to take it to the British army's Palace Barracks in Holywood, Co Down, where MI5 is based.

Police believe the location was selected because MI5 will ensure that the British government remains responsible for a large part of the intelligence and security portfolio, despite the handing over of justice powers to Stormont.

The Real IRA claimed responsibility for the bomb, which exploded as the area was being evacuated. An elderly man was injured when he was knocked to the ground by the force of the blast.

The taxi was hijacked in the Ligoniel area of north Belfast, seven miles from Holywood, and the driver held hostage by three men for about two hours, before he was ordered to take it to the barracks.

The driver abandoned the car at the barracks and shouted, "It's a bomb, it's a bomb."

Confront

Police were clearing the area when the bomb exploded and up to 40 residents, who were being evacuated from their homes, had to dive for cover.

Chief Constable Baggott called on the public to remain alert. He said: "You have a group of people still trapped in their anger, bitterness and rage and who are simply unable to move forward. We will continue to confront them."

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the bombing was futile and that the institutions in Northern Ireland had the support of all the people of this island.

Pointing out that the dissidents did not have a mandate, he said: "We will use all the resources available on the island to confront these people."

Northern Secretary Shaun Woodward was emphatic that those behind the attack would not derail the political process.

Mr Ahern said he and Mr Ford were determined the Border would not be exploited by law-breakers.

The Real IRA, which has been mounting a big recruitment drive in the North and has also attracted the support of a small band of former Provisionals, has about 100 activists.

Seven weeks ago, the group, which is one of two Real IRA factions, also detonated a 250-pound bomb outside the courthouse in Newry.

It was also believed to be responsible for a 1,000-pound bomb that was packed into a van before being abandoned under a flyover bridge on the A1 near Newry.

ANALYSIS BY TOM BRADY: PAGE 22

Irish Independent

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