Two arrested in Dublin over attempted murder of PSNI officer

Men detained in connection with discovery of bomb under car in Shandon Park, Belfast

Police and army bomb disposal experts at Shandon Park Golf Club in east Belfast after a bomb was found under a car in the car park in June. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

Police and army bomb disposal experts at Shandon Park Golf Club in east Belfast after a bomb was found under a car in the car park in June. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

 

Two suspected members of the New IRA have been arrested in Dublin over the attempted murder of a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer in Belfast two months ago.

A bomb was found under the car of the serving police officer at a golf club in east Belfast in June.

The device was declared to be a “viable improvised explosive device” and detectives believe the attack at Shandon Park Golf Club was carried out by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

The murder attempt happened a short distance from the PSNI’s headquarters and dissident republican group, the New IRA, claimed responsibility for the attack at the time.

On Tuesday morning two suspected members of the organisation were arrested in Dublin by members of the counter-terrorism Special Detective Unit of the Garda. It is understood the arrest was made following a surveillance operation.

At least one of the men is believed to have a record of serious offending in the Republic.

Potential extradition

The men, who are both aged in their 40s, are being held under Section 30 of the Offences against the State Act which allows them to be questioned for up to 72 hours. Gardaí have declined where they are being held for security reasons.

Gardaí will seek to refer the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions who, if it has enough evidence will attempt to extradite them to Northern Ireland to face charges.

The UK is due to leave the EU on October 31st and with it the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system which could make any extradition a much more complex process.

Following a no-deal Brexit Irish-UK extradition procedures will revert to a 1957 treaty which legal experts believe is more cumbersome and time consuming than the EAW system.

The PSNI welcomed the arrest and said it demonstrated the “excellent working relationship” between the Garda and the PSNI.

“The arrests should send a clear message to those involved in terrorist activity that the border does not provide an escape route,” said Detective Superintendent Sean Wright.

“Our two police services work collaboratively on a daily basis, sharing knowledge and information, to ensure that there is no hiding place for criminals or terrorists.

“My detectives continue to investigate this reckless attack on a public servant and we have considerable support from our AGS colleagues.”

Under-car tactics

The attempted bombing of the officer’s car was the first major activity by the New IRA, which styles itself the IRA, since it claimed responsibility for the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry in April.

The device was spotted underneath the car by someone attending the golf club. Seventy people were evacuated and a tournament was cancelled as bomb disposal personnel made the device safe.

It is understood the bomb contained high powered plastic explosives which would have been fatal to the occupant of the car and anyone standing nearby.

In a statement claiming responsibility, the New IRA said the bomb contained a mercury tilt switch which is normally activated by the motion of a car. It suggested because the officer’s car travelled over a relatively smooth road surface, there was not sufficient jolting or bumping of the vehicle to trigger the device.

“We are confident the device would have exploded if it was not for the level terrain it had travelled on,” said the New IRA. “We were unlucky this time but we only have to be lucky once.”

The New IRA regularly uses under-car bombs. In recent years such devices have claimed the lives of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh, Co Tyrone and prison officer Adrian Ismay in Belfast.

The group remains one of the chief suspects behind a bomb attack aimed at PSNI officers in Fermanagh on Monday.

Officers were at Wattle Bridge responding to reports of the hoax device when a separate device detonated a short distance up the road. The PSNI said it believed officers were lured to the area to be murdered and that the New IRA or the Continuity IRA were likely responsible.

Gardaí say they are continuing to assist the PSNI with its investigation.