Mortar bombs seized in Derry 'primed and within minutes of being launched'
The PSNI said the roof of the van used to transport the mortar bombs had been cut off, allowing them to be launched, and the four bombs were contained inside tubes. photograph: paul faith
A senior police officer in Derry said yesterday that four mortar bombs found in a Dublin-registered van intercepted by police on Sunday night were “fully primed and within minutes of being launched”.
Chief Supt Stephen Cargin said he believed police had foiled an imminent mortar bomb attack, probably on the city’s police headquarters at Strand Road, by dissident republicans.
He said the roof of the van had been cut off and the four bombs were contained inside tubes. They were fully primed and within minutes of being launched from a specially prepared launch pad, he added.
Chief Supt Cargin said: “But for the excellent work of officers whose job is to protect the community we could well have been looking at a scene of mass casualties and multiple deaths today, not just of police officers but also of members of the community who live close to the intended target, which we believe with certainty was to have been a police base.”
Police sources have indicated that the interception of the mortar bombs was the result of a joint intelligence operation between the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
It is believed the mortar bombs were made in Co Donegal and driven across the Border along the Letterkenny road towards Derry in the adapted Citroen Berlingo van.
As a result of information received from the Garda, PSNI officers stopped the van at a roundabout at the junction of Foyle Road and Lone Moore Road in the Brandywell area of Derry.
After the van was forced to stop by two PSNI vehicles, dozens of armed officers emerged from concealed positions and arrested the driver, who was the van’s only occupant, as well as the rider of a motorcycle which was travelling close to the van.
A third man was arrested at his home a mile away in the city’s Creggan area at 5am yesterday.
“All three men are local, they are known to us and they are being questioned at the serious crime suite in Antrim police station,” said Chief Supt Cargin.
Following the discovery of the mortar bombs, more than 100 nearby houses were evacuated. During the evacuation a group of youths threw several petrol bombs and stones at police officers assisting people from their homes.
Foyle SDLP MP Mark Durkan said the city had been spared “an awful catastrophe”.