PSNI blames New IRA after mortar bomb found in Strabane

Viable Tyrone device was intended to be fired into police station, senior officer says

The mortar device found in Strabane last weekend. Photograph: PSNI

The mortar device found in Strabane last weekend. Photograph: PSNI

 

Dissident republicans planned to fire the mortar bomb found in Strabane, Co Tyrone on Saturday into the town’s police station, the area’s police chief has said.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) district commander, Superintendent Gordon McCalmont, said his assessment was that the New IRA was responsible.

The bomb was “designed to kill and harm,” he said. “It was absolutely reckless, with a total disregard for our community.”

A member of the public discovered the “mortar-type device” on a wall in Church View - which overlooks Strabane police station - on Saturday. A number of homes were evacuated during the subsequent security operation.

Images released by the police appear to show three tubes taped together with wires coming out of them and resting on the front wall of a house, near the front door of the property.

Supt McCalmont said the fact that the device had been left “in a very unstable condition” close to residential homes was shocking.

“It astounds me,” he said. “My professional assessment was that for some reason it had failed to deploy, but it was there set up and ready to go.”

Those who left the device, he said, “had every intention of killing my colleagues,” and could easily have killed members of the public.

Hijacked

The control and design of the bomb, he said, was such that “it could have gone everywhere. There’s a house in the pathway which it would have had to cross, a domestic house, towards Strabane police station.

“It could have overshot into a domestic home.

“It was set there and it was sitting there overnight for approximately eight to nine hours in this every vulnerable position, only that a member of the public found it and allowed us to start putting a public safety operation in place.”

According to the police, the bomb was placed in a car which was hijacked from a pizza delivery driver in the Mount Sion area of Strabane at about 9.40pm on Friday.

A fake pizza order was placed from a phone box on Bridge Street and when the driver arrived at the address, his car was hijacked by three men.

It was found on fire at Evish Road about 45 minutes later. The device was found by a member of the public the following morning.

Aileen Mullan, who lives in Church View, told BBC Radio Foyle her children could have been killed.

“I thought what could have happened - it was right under my daughter’s bedroom window.

“My daughter is 14 and my son is seven. My son could have easily walked out the front door and lifted it, quite easily went out and lifted it and he would have been gone.”

Of the number of dissident republican groups in existence, the New IRA is viewed by police as posing the most significant threat in the north west of Northern Ireland.

It was responsible for the murder of 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee in Derry in April. In January, it left a car bomb outside the city’s courthouse which exploded only minutes after a group of teenagers had walked past.

Its members have also killed two prison officers, and in 2017 attempted to kill a police officer by placing a bomb underneath his car outside his home.

Dissident republican groups have made a number of recent attempts to kill police officers in Northern Ireland.

Significant risks

Last month the Continuity IRA were blamed for a bomb on the Border at Wattle Bridge, Co Fermanagh, which detonated as police and members of the British army’s bomb disposal team were responding to reports of a hoax.

Supt McCalmont said that the police were “concerned as an organisation” about the increased number of attacks by dissident republicans.

“This is the seventh attack this year, of significance, and presents us real challenges in terms of delivering a policing service.

“The new IRA members behind this attack are living in our community. They are building bombs and storing weapons presenting significant risks to our community.”

While he was speaking to reporters in Derry on Monday, 80 police officers were involved in searches for bomb-making equipment in the Creggan area of the city.

“Our assessment is this group is concealing bomb-making materials in this area,” Supt McCalmont said.

The searches are related to New IRA activity, but are not connected to the discovery of the device in Strabane.

Supt McCalmont said his concern was the “level of recklessness” displayed by the New IRA and other dissident republican groups.

“We’re seeing devices left at bus stops in other parts of Northern Ireland, these devices left in a vulnerable position for extended periods of time.

“There’s absolute disregard for the community, the recklessness, it’s absolutely frightening the harm that could be presented to our community,” he said.

Asked if the New IRA was expanding its strength and capability, Supt McCalmont said that it was “difficult to say at this time” but that the PSNI believes they are trying to recruit new members.

He said the PSNI were not aligning the upsurge in dissident republican activity to Brexit. “We recognise the dissidents have spoken themselves, that they see it as a possible recruitment tool, but we’re not aligning this attack with the EU exit at this time.”

Supt McCalmont appealed for the public to contact the police with information, and said that their chances were “improved by support and information from the community.

“Our focus will remain on keeping the community safe against the threat posed by these violent groups,” he said. “I would strongly urge people to report any suspicions they have about dangerous or illegal activity in our community.”