Police foil Derry mortar attack

A bomb disposal expert inspects a van on the Letterkenny Road  on the outskirts of Derry that was stopped by police this morning. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

A bomb disposal expert inspects a van on the Letterkenny Road on the outskirts of Derry that was stopped by police this morning. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire


Three men have been arrested after police foiled what is believed to be a planned bomb attack by dissident republicans.

PSNI officers rammed a van on the Letterkenny Road close to Derry city centre following a joint PSNI - Garda intelligence-led operation. It is believed the mortar bombs were manufactured in Co Donegal and driven across the Border in the specially-adapted vehicle.

Two men were detained at the scene and a third was held later in follow-up searches. The three men are all in their 30s.

Police confirmed four live mortars were discovered in the van, which had its roof cut back to allow the mortars to be fired.

Chief Supt Stephen Cargin said he believed that his officers had foiled an imminent dissident republican mortar bomb attack, probably on the city’s police headquarters at Strand Road. “The roof of the van had been cut off and the four mortars bombs were contained inside tubes with explosives packed into warheads. They were fully primed and within minutes of being launched from a specially prepared launch pad," he said.

More than 100 homes had to be evacuated when the police moved in on the vehicle close to the junction of Letterkenny Road and Foyle Road. Several people who had to leave their homes last night were elderly.

“We were 10 minutes away from a disaster. That is how close we were to a really bad night in Londonderry,” said East Derry MP Gregory Campbell. “The mortars were ready to be fired. There could have been dozens of people killed.”

Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney said the “overwhelming majority” of people in Derry will be relieved these weapons are off the streets. “There is no place for these people who call themselves dissident republicans in the 21st century.”

Mr Cargan said the van had been stopped in Letterkenny Road and four live mortar bombs were found. “They were destined for a police station in the Derry. It was a reckless attack. They were prepared to drive through a built-up area of the city to carry out this attack and cause mass fatalities," he said. “These devices were primed. They are crude home-made devices and there is no way people who made these bombs would be certain they would have hit their target. There would have been mass murder of police, and serious damage to property.”

SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey said the interception of the bombs was down to swift police action. “The fact that the van’s roof had been cut back shows that there was real intent to use these devices to cause serious injury or death, " he said. "I am dismayed that dissident republicans continue to pursue activity which shows a ruthless disregard for human life. Any threat to those people who work to uphold the rule of law is totally abhorrent. This special year for Derry cannot be overshadowed by the reckless efforts of a delusional minority. People here deserve to live in a society free from violence and the threat of violence.”

Policing Board chairman Brian Rea also praised the policing operation. “The PSNI are to be commended for foiling an attack which would undoubtedly have brought death and destruction to the City of Derry,” he said. “The target may have been the police but these four mortars could very easily have detonated at any time and there is a real sense of relief in the community that the police have prevented what could have been a terrible atrocity.”

Meanwhile, police confirmed that a crude but viable explosive device was left outside a shop in Co Antrim. Army bomb experts were called to Doagh Road in Newtownabbey during the early hours of this morning. Police said the four-and-a-half-hour alert ended at about 6.20am.

A few hours later, a 30-year-old man was arrested in Newtownabbey on suspicion of riot, improper use of public electronic communications network and making explosives under suspicious circumstances.