Real IRA blamed for bomb blitz on Newry courthouse
RENEGADE republican group the Real IRA has been blamed by police for the massive car bomb that exploded outside the courthouse in Newry.
The bombers issued a code-worded warning that the bomb would explode within 30 minutes -- but it rocked the border town within 17 minutes as police were clearing the streets on Monday night.
Officers admitted last night that it was "a miracle" the town had not suffered a high casualty toll.
The blast has provided further evidence to back up the decision by senior officers in the Garda and the PSNI to jointly launch a series of new anti-terrorist initiatives on both sides of the Border.
Some of the measures are already in place and involve overt and covert surveillance, with the gardai being backed up by specially trained personnel from the elite Emergency Response Unit.
Police are also targeting "fundraising" operations by dissident groups to purchase new weaponry and these include their involvement in large-scale cigarette smuggling.
The Newry bomb was estimated last night to have contained about 250lb of explosives and was the biggest device to have been successfully detonated by the dissidents for almost a decade.
The republican splinter groups have managed to set up a number of smaller blasts, including the under-car bomb which badly wounded Catholic PSNI officer Peadar Heffron about a mile from his home in Randalstown, Co Antrim.
But their bigger bombs have failed to go off and the Newry blast represents a sinister step forward for the terrorists.
The car containing the bomb, a blue Mazda with Monaghan registration plates, had been left at the gates of the courthouse at around 10pm and a half-hour telephone warning was received at the local hospital at 10.20pm with a further call to a business premises at 10.22pm.
However, PSNI officers were still evacuating the area when the bomb detonated at 10.37pm. Among the buildings damaged by the blast was a 170-year-old church.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott said last night: "There is absolutely no excuse for bringing bombs on to our streets but, added to that, the timing we were given was severely limited.
"This is an attack which broke and damaged places of worship. This is an attack which has damaged the ability of Newry to be at the heart of our economic success, so this is much more than simply an attack on a court building," he added.
He dismissed claims by Ulster Unionist politicians that his force was underestimating the threat posed by dissidents.
Hours before the blast, Mr Baggott and Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy had shared a platform in Cavan where they pledged that the two forces were determined the terrorists would not succeed.
Mr Murphy said that as far as he and his colleagues were concerned, any attack on a member of one force was regarded as an attack on all of them.
Northern First Minister Peter Robinson said those responsible for the Newry blast were determined to destroy all that had been achieved in recent months and their sole aim was to return the North to its darkest point.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was determined the attack would not undermine the progress made and the attacks were futile, serving only to strengthen their resolve.
Last night police in the North had to deal with bomb alerts in north Belfast and in Lurgan, Co Armagh.
The Newry bomb came three days after a failed attempt to launch a mortar bomb attack on a police station at nearby Keady, Co Armagh.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams dismissed the dissident terrorists as "ceasefire soldiers", who had not been active prior to the peace process.