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PSNI believes Continuity IRA was behind Brexit Day bomb plot after explosive found on lorry

Two calls were made to a media outlet, the second outlining an intended explosion to mark Brexit.

Police searched Belfast Harbour after a report was made of device sailing to Scotland but nothing was found. (File photo)
Police searched Belfast Harbour after a report was made of device sailing to Scotland but nothing was found. (File photo)
Image: PA Images

Updated Feb 6th 2020, 8:00 PM

THE PSNI HAS said it believes dissident group the Continuity IRA (CIRA) was behind a bomb plot that saw an explosive device attached to a lorry being found in Co Armagh.

Police say that a media outlet was informed on 31 January that an explosive device was in a lorry in Belfast docks. The report stated that the lorry was due to travel by ferry to Scotland.

Friday 31 January was the day the UK exited the EU.

A thorough search by both the PSNI of Belfast Harbour and Police Scotland found nothing.

Three days later, the same media outlet was informed in another call that the explosive device had been attached to a lorry belonging to a named haulage company.

The more detailed information meant specific searches could be undertaken and around 400 vehicles were checked on 3 February and Tuesday 4 February. 

Police say the device was subsequently found attached to a heavy goods vehicle in the Silverwood Industrial Estate near Lurgan in Co. Armagh.

That explosive device was subsequently made safe by explosive experts.

At a police briefing today, Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke said the PSNI “believes that the terrorists responsible were CIRA”.

Clarke said that the second call outlined an intention that the device would explode at midnight on the night of Brexit. 

“On Friday evening, a warning or a call was made to a media outlet, indicating that a device had been left in a trailer in Belfast Docks. Subsequent to that call, on Monday evening, a further call was received by a media outlet,” Clarke said. 

That call contained substantially more detail, it gave us the detail of a commercial haulage company and it indicated that a device had been left on a vehicle or trailer connected to that company and that the intention had been for that device to explode on Friday evening at around the time the United Kingdom left the EU. So you’ll understand that on Friday we received virtually no information and on a Monday we receive substantially more. 

The officer said police believe that at no time did the lorry leave the yard between Friday and Monday but that “the second call indicates an intention on the part of the bombers, that it would have traveled to Belfast”.

Asked about the intention that the lorry was to travel on a ferry, Clarke said: “The first call received on Friday indicated that the device would go on to the midnight ferry. There is no midnight ferry.”

The officer was also asked about the potential damage the explosive could have posed to the ferry should it have got on board. In response, Clake said he wouldn’t comment on “the engineering of the device”. 

“I’ll make a very simple point. Anyone who plants a device in a public place is reckless as the consequences of their action, and have the potential to kill or seriously injured people in that area,” he said. 

This is an incredibly reckless activity. It’s worth remembering that the terrorists, if the device was planted as we believe on Friday or around that time, it’s between Friday and Monday before they give us the information that enables us to look at this. During that period of time, a viable bomb is in a commercial yard, posing significant risk to anybody who comes within range of it.

“And if we look at the plan that may have existed for this vehicle to be transported on a public road,” he added. 

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“You can imagine that on a Friday, a Friday afternoon, Friday evening. The roads are extremely busy. There are people coming home from school. Going to and from their work or socialising. So the potential carnage that could be caused by any explosion of any size is simply quite worrying to contemplate.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the potential loss of life that could have been inflicted if the device had detonated on board an Irish Sea ferry did not bear thinking about.

“The discovery of this bomb in Lurgan obviously highlighted once again that there are those in Northern Ireland who still attempt to drag us backwards into terrorism and violence,” she said.

“The potential damage which could have been caused and loss of life either here in Northern Ireland, on board a ferry or in Great Britain do not bear thinking about.

“It is significant that information was available which meant police could search the ferry and ensure it was able to sail safely.

“The disruption of such potential attacks can save lives and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to all those working to keep the public safe and thwart the efforts of terrorists.

“It is vital that information continues to be forthcoming and the police are assisted in efforts to bring anyone responsible for such incidents to justice.”

The PSNI is appealing for anyone who was in the Silverwood Industrial Estate between 4.00pm and 10.00pm on Friday 31 January to contact them.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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