A major terrorist attack on a police station has been thwarted in Derry, Northern Ireland, with the discovery of four primed mortar rockets and the arrest of the three men.
A senior police officer in the city confirmed on Monday that a van with its roof cut out was on its way to fire the mortars at one of the main Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) stations in Derry.
The security operation which began on Sunday night when the vehicle was stopped on the Letterkeny Road resulted in three men in their 30s being detained – two at the scene, and another in a house during follow-up searches.
The van and a motorbike that was following the vehicle when it was intercepted remain at the scene.
Around 100 families had to leave their homes while army technical officers dealt with the live mortar rounds.
A PSNI spokesman said three men had been taken to Antrim serious crime suite, where they were being questioned.
Chief superintendent Stephen Cargin said dissident republicans opposed to the peace process had been on their way to attack a police station. He said it was a “reckless attack on the city of Derry”.
Northern Ireland’s justice minister, David Ford, said that “excellent police work” had averted death, injury and destruction.
“For the second time in less than a week the PSNI has removed deadly materials from our streets. We owe the PSNI a huge debt of gratitude for the excellent work they … do across Northern Ireland,” the minister said.
It is understood the attempted sortie was the work of the New IRA, the coalition of anti-ceasefire republican groups formed last summer.
The SDLP assembly member for Derry, Pat Ramsey, said he believed the mortar bombs were being transported from across the border from County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland into Derry.
Ramsey said he was appalled that during the security operation youths threw a petrol bomb at a police patrol car although no one was injured in that incident.
“Older people and very disabled people have had to be moved from their homes. There was a lady, a double amputee and two disabled people who needed assistance of an ambulance to get them out.
“This is the distress that the dissidents are causing to their own people in their own communities,” he said.
The New IRA has been trying to carry out a high profile terrorist attack in Derry for several months. The level of terrorist threat is regarded as high at the moment during the 2013 Derry UK City of Culture and the G8 international conference in Co Fermanagh in June. Security sources say they fear the New IRA will use both major events to organise a “spectacular” terrorist attack.
The capture of the mortars and the specially converted van that was to be used as a launchpad for the rockets will bring back memories of one of the biggest terrorist atrocities in the Troubles. In February 1985 nine police officers were killed when mortar bombs were fired into Newry police station. Twenty-five people including civilian workers in the station were also injured in that attack.
Last week the PSNI found a number of mortar rockets in an empty house in west Belfast signifying that the security forces have made in-roads into terms of informants and surveillance on dissident republican groups across Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, police were also dealing with a suspect device in the Dunclug area of Ballymena on Monday morning.
Northern Ireland police intercept van en route to Derry terrorist attack – The Guardian
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