Ex-soldier escapes 'Real IRA' booby trap bomb attack
Published 30/03/2002 | 00:11
A FORMER member of the Royal Irish Regiment yesterday made a 40-mile round trip from his home in Sion Mills, Co Tyrone, to Omagh, unaware that a booby trap bomb was attached to his car.
Among the places he visited in Omagh was a security force base where, despite a search of the car, the 2lb Semtex bomb with a mercury tilt switch attached to it remained undiscovered.
The alert was raised yesterday morning when a neighbour of the former soldier, who was driving in the opposite direction, saw the device hanging from under the front of the intended victim's car as they passed each other in the village of Newtownstewart, midway between Sion Mills and Omagh.
The neighbour immediately alerted the police and when officers arrived at the man's Meadow Park home in Sion Mills, they found the bomb.
The intended target of what police believe was a Real IRA murder bid, had survived several previous murder bids during his time as a UDR and RIR soldier.
A married man in his late fifties, he lives with his wife and their grown-up son and daughter in a mixed area of Sion Mills, close to an integrated primary school. It is believed he bought the car only two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, PSNI Inspector Andy Lemon said if the bomb had exploded, there could have been widespread casualties.
"This was a massive booby trap bomb and to attempt to murder this man on Good Friday is simply horrendous. Any one of three members of this man's family could have driven this car, the bomb could have exploded anywhere maiming or killing anyone.
"We had to evacuate 150 people from their homes to safety during the operation to make the device safe. Looking around me now at how many children are playing on the streets on a bright sunny day, it makes you realise how lucky not only this man was, but also other innocent members of the public.
Although our investigations are at an early stage, we cannot rule out that it was carried out by Dissident Republicans, considering this man is a former member of the security forces," he said.
Meanwhile an internal inquiry was also under way at the security force base visited by the former RIR soldier after routine security checks failed to detect the Semtex bomb.
Police believe the terrorists involved could be linked to an attack at a military training camp at Magilligan, Co Derry, last month when a civilian lost both arms in an explosion after picking up an army drinking bottle. It was also fitted with a mercury tilt switch.
A unit of the Real IRA has been involved in a string of failed attacks on the security forces in Derry and at Strabane, Co Tyrone.
Around 150 men, women and children had to be evacuated as the bomb disposal team dealt with the device.
Ministers in London and Dublin believe the attack was a deliberate attempt by dissidents to embarrass Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as the Provisionals agonise over a second move on decommissioning.