IRA leaders discuss bomb attack on republican


SENIOR IRA members met last night to discuss the political and military situation following the bomb attack on a leading republican in north Belfast.

Mr Eddie Copeland suffered arm and leg injuries when a bomb exploded under his car as he left his mother's home in Ardoyne at lunch time yesterday. No group has claimed responsibility, but loyalists are widely believed to have been involved.

It has been seen as retaliation for the shooting on Friday of an RUC bodyguard of the DUP secretary, Mr Nigel Dodds, at the Royal Victoria Hospital on the Falls Road. Mr Dodds was visiting his sick son there.

In a statement the IRA claimed it had been targeting Mr Dodds. Republican sources said that if the operation had gone according to plan, the DUP secretary would have been killed.

Mr Copeland, a hardline republican, has been very critical of the peace process and the Sinn Fein leadership's political strategy, according to sources.

Republican supporters of the peace process are eager to prevent dissidents from using the bombing as a reason to launch further attacks. One source said. "There has been a lot of internal tension of recent weeks and this will only make things worse.

"People have no faith in the peace process. It is seen as a joke, yet the leadership are still desperately clinging on to it. They will have to tread very carefully now after the attack on Eddie. Feelings will be running high."

However, other republican sources said that the bomb was more a symbolic gesture than an attempt to kill Mr Copeland. Loyalists were eager, after the Dodds shooting, to show the IRA that they could match them attack for attack.

However, they knew that the type of car bomb they planted under Mr Copeland's car would injure, but not kill, him, the sources said. Loyalists have a low success rate with this kind of device.

Unlike the IRA, they have been unable to acquire the most effective type of commercial explosives. Their bomb engineers have not perfected the technique of directing the blast correctly to cause the maximum damage.

One source said there had been only a bone in a million chance" of the bomb yesterday killing Mr Copeland. He said that elements favouring the peace process would be pointing this out to dissidents in order to calm them.

According to sources, Mr Copeland had several clashes with senior Sinn Fein figures during the summer when he wanted a more militant stance during the Drumcree standoff.

The INLA launched several attacks in north Belfast that week and hardline IRA members in Ardoyne were anxious that the Provisionals were being made to look soft.

Internal tensions were at one stage so high in Ardoyne that a veteran republican in the area had to mediate.

Mr Copeland, one of north Belfast's best known republicans, is despised in loyalist circles. He first came to public prominence when he was shot and wounded by a British soldier in Ardoyne in October 1993.

He had been standing outside the home of Thomas Begley, the IRA man who killed himself and nine Protestants in an attack on Frizzell's fish shop on the Shankill Road.

A British soldier, Andrew Clarke of the 9th/12th Lancers, opened fire on a group of mourners, which included several leading republicans, outside the Begley family's home.

In interviews with police, Clarke said that he felt frustrated at seeing suspected paramilitary members walking freely and taunting soldiers.

He was found guilty last year of attempting to murder Mr Copeland and was jailed for 10 years. The judge said it was possible to understand his feelings of frustration and resentment but added that he could not condone his actions.

Two years ago, Mr Copeland was one of three alleged in the House of Commons by the Ulster Unionist leader, Mr David Trimble, to be senior IRA men.

Mr Copeland comes from a large family in Ardoyne. He never tries to hid his republican beliefs. His father, John, was shot dead by the British army in disputed circumstances in Ardoyne in 1971, at the age of 23.