Fear of terrorist cell lurking in scenic coastal village
AN isolated beauty spot on the Northern Ireland coast has become a major hub for dissident republican terrorists opposed to the peace process, according to security sources.
In the latest incident attributed to Continuity IRA militants in the picturesque fishing village of Ballyhornan, Co Down, two balaclava-clad men robbed one of the Province's best loved restaurants, the Lobster Pot, on the shores of Strangford Lough seven miles away, early last Saturday.
On Tuesday dissident republicans from the area were blamed after two masked men opened fire on police and soldiers in a housing estate in the nearby town of Downpatrick.
The Ballyhornan militants, who have been branded an unholy alliance of ordinary thugs, "Friday night republicans" and career terrorists, have been blamed for recent attacks on police stations in Downpatrick and Ardglass, an attempted attack on a local loyalist family and the kidnapping of a 16-year-old boy held for five days in an abandoned building on a disused airbase, while his father, a wealthy scrap metal dealer in Belfast, was asked to pay #100,000 for his release. A local man has been questioned over the kidnapping.
Locals have reported hearing machine-gun fire and a number of loud explosions from the vicinity of Gun's Island, a small outcrop 100 yards out to sea, and the beach and coastal paths surrounding Bishopscourt airfield. Security forces believe Ballyhornan and the site of the old Bishopscourt RAF base have become a focal point for the Continuity IRA's terrorist campaign in Co Down under the leadership of a former Provisional IRA gunman from Belfast.
With its tranquil bay, turquoise water and rock pools, Ballyhornan, and the Co Down hills which surround it, are an unlikely setting for one of the latest campaigns to drive Britain away by force.
Police in Northern Ireland gave warning last month that the threat from dissident republicans was at its highest level since the Real IRA bombed Omagh in August 1998.
They are believed to be particularly concerned about the situation in Ballyhornan and have stepped up their surveillance of several individuals, whose homes are tucked away down country lanes surrounded by old airbase buildings, after the recent defection of a leading Provisional IRA bomb maker who is now operating in the area.