Friday 20 September 2019

Fears Fermanagh bomb explosion was a 'booby trap': 'This was designed to kill'

  • Explosive device has detonated in Co Fermanagh - police
  • Army bomb disposal officers and police were at the scene when the explosion happened
  • Fears explosive device was 'a booby trap for security forces'
  • The finger of suspicion will again point to dissident republicans opposed to the peace process
PSNI Road Block at Gortinacarrow, Co Fermanagh - about two miles from the scene at Wattle Bridge
PSNI Road Block at Gortinacarrow, Co Fermanagh - about two miles from the scene at Wattle Bridge
PSNI Road Block at Gortinacarrow Co Fermanagh
PSNI deputy chief constable Stephen Martin (Photo: Rebecca Black/PA)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

An explosive device has detonated in Co Fermanagh, police sources have said.

Army bomb disposal officers and police were at the scene when the explosion happened at Wattle Bridge close to Newtownbutler at around 10.35am morning. No one was injured.

Bomb disposal officers had been in the area at the weekend responding to reports that a device had been left there.

That item was ultimately declared a hoax but it is understood another device exploded close-by on Monday when a bomb disposal team attended to review the scene.

It is understood the Army team of Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO) and police were fortunate to escape without injury.

The finger of suspicion will again point to dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

Army bomb disposal officers and police were at the scene when the explosion happened at Wattle Bridge close to Newtownbutler (Photo: Google Maps)
Army bomb disposal officers and police were at the scene when the explosion happened at Wattle Bridge close to Newtownbutler (Photo: Google Maps)

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne called the incident a "clear and deliberate attempt to murder."

He said: "The bomb attack in Fermanagh this morning is a sinister development. A clear and deliberate attempt to murder PSNI officers.

"I strongly condemn these actions and express my sincere thanks to both the Officers and Army personnel for their work in securing the area."

There will be suspicions the hoax device was part of a booby trap plan to bring security forces into the area prior to the detonation of the viable device.

PSNI Road Block at Gortinacarrow Co Fermanagh
PSNI Road Block at Gortinacarrow Co Fermanagh

PSNI deputy chief constable Stephen Martin said he is of the "firm belief" the attack was a deliberate attempt to lure police and ATO into the area "to murder them".

"At around 10.35am this morning police officers at the scene have reported an explosion in the area of the Cavan Road at its junction with the Wattlebridge Road. There are no reports of any injuries and officers are investigating the cause of the explosion.

"Police had received a report that a suspect device had been left in the area of Wattle Bridge on Saturday evening. The area was secured by police and a full clearance operation began on Sunday morning.

"The initial report received by police indicated that a device had been left on the Wattlebridge Road however the explosion occurred on the main A3 Cavan Road.

"While this investigation is at a very early stage I am of the firm belief this was a deliberate attempt to lure police and ATO colleagues into the area to murder them. Although this device was intended to kill police and army personnel the fact that it was placed on a main road the result could well have been devastating for anyone in the immediate vicinity.

"This attack was indiscriminate and reckless and, whilst there is no doubt in my mind that police responding to this call were the target, the reality is that anyone could have been caught up in the explosion. We are extremely fortunate that the actions of officers who were first on scene meant that there was not serious injury or death.

"I wish to acknowledge and commend the bravery and commitment of those officers and army personnel at the scene of this attack.

"I would like to again thank the community for their patience and cooperation throughout the security operation as we seek to ensure their safety. The area around the scene will remain closed for some time while our officers conduct their investigations and ensure the area is safe.

"I ask that anyone who may be able to help our investigation and identify the perpetrators of this sinister and potentially murderous attack to please come forward. You can call us on 101 or if you would prefer information can be given anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called those behind the bomb "cowardly" as he spoke about the importance of the good Friday Agreement.

The Fine Gael leader said: "I strongly condemn the cowardly actions of those responsible for this bomb attack, which could have had devastating consequences.

"There is never any justification to use violence to achieve political aims. The people of Ireland, North and South, had their say on this issue when they voted overwhelmingly and emphatically for the Good Friday Agreement.

"It is a considerable relief that no PSNI officers were seriously injured or killed when this bomb went off. We should be in no doubt that this device was intended to inflict maximum harm. I encourage anyone who has information on this incident to provide it to the PSNI, so that those responsible can be brought to justice and future attacks prevented."

Speaking to Independent.ie at the scene, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “Well this is a disgraceful attack on members of the security forces, and indeed with the random nature of the bomb it could have went off at anytime and injured a wider member of the community.

“It’s very concerning and we need to ensure that police have all the support and all the financial support they need.”

Asked if Garda checkpoints at some roads south of the Border close to the bomb scene were a sign of things to come, Ms Foster said: “We have to have a cordon in place when incidents like this happen. This road is normally opened and as you know is a route from Northern Ireland to the Republic. This will be lifted once police have finished their investigations.

“We’ve seen this particular brand of Dissident Republican take life over the last years. We think of David Black and Ronan Kerr whose murders were carried out by dissident republicans at a time when Brexit wasn’t being mentioned and the Executive as well.

"These people should not get any excuses for what they have tried to do here today with the intention of hurting and maiming, of what they see as legitimate targets, and of course there have never been legitimate targets in Northern Ireland and there certainly aren’t now. "

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said in a statement: "A despicable act perpetrated by persons with no regard for law, order or democratic principles."

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew condemned those responsible.

"This morning's bomb attack in Wattle Bridge was totally wrong," said the Sinn Fein representative.

"Thankfully no-one was injured in this incident but we could have been dealing with a situation where people were seriously injured or worse.

"Those responsible for this incident have nothing to offer society and need to end these actions immediately.

"Anyone with information on this should bring it forward to the PSNI."

Meanwhile, SDLP Fermanagh Councillor Adam Gannon said that the explosion was designed to kill and those responsible must be caught.

"We’re very fortunate not to be dealing with the death or serious injury of police officers or members of the public after a bomb exploded near Wattle Bridge this morning. I understand that police and bomb disposal teams were working to make another device safe yesterday and into today when a secondary device was triggered nearby," Cllr Gannon said.

"Murdering or maiming police officers achieves no goals and it is a crime that has no support in Fermanagh. No one here wants to see members of our community killed in their name. Those responsible are criminals threatening our community and they have to be caught.

"Anyone with information should come forward to police as soon as possible."

Dolores Kelly, SDLP MLA and Policing Board member, paid tribute to the officers at the scene.

"They continue to work hard to keep communities like this safe and today’s incident is another reminder of the serious threat that they operate under," she said.

"There is no place for this in the society we’ve created. The SDLP wil be meeting with the Chief Constable later this week and we'll be raising the security threat in border communities as an urgent matter."

With additional reporting from PA

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