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Northern Ireland tense as officials hunt for smuggled bomb

Ireland unites in protest against violence as police begin crackdown on dissident groups.

By / March 12, 2009



DUBLIN, Ireland – A security alert has been issued today in the Northern Ireland town of Ballykinler, the site of a British Army base.

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The Ballykinler base in County Down is one of several feared targets of dissident republicans intent on reigniting Northern Ireland's "Troubles" – a three-decade long conflict between Irish republicans and Britain. Despite widespread condemnation of the dissident activity, many fear the attacks are being stepped-up in order to destabilize Northern Irish society.

A joint operation now underway by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Garda Síochána, the Republic of Ireland's police, seeks to uncover a bomb believed to have been smuggled into Northern Ireland by a dissident republican group calling itself the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA), which claimed responsibility for killing two British soldiers Saturday.

The bomb alert follows a report in London's Guardian newspaper that stated security forces are scouring the country after receiving intelligence reports that the RIRA has smuggled a large bomb into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland.

Guardian correspondent Henry MacDonald says the alert has been at "red light level" since Monday. "The evidence is on the streets and roads – there are checkpoints in South Down and South Armagh."

Security has been tightened on the largely open and unpatrolled 224-mile border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, according to media reports.

A PSNI spokesperson said that they do not discuss operational matters. The Garda Síochána also declined to comment.

The bomb scare comes as heads of Ireland's two police forces are set to meet in Belfast today to discuss the recent violence by dissidents. Police chiefs Hugh Orde and Fachtna Murphy will assess the security threat posed by the emboldened groups still opposed to the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accord.

Northern Ireland remains tense after a recent spate of shootings in which three people – two soldiers and a police officer – were killed. The soldiers were shot by the RIRA in Antrim on on March 7, the Monitor reported here. Two days later, we reported on the killing of a police officer by another breakaway group called the Continuity IRA. The two attacks are being treated as unrelated by the authorities. Mr. Orde said reports of a connection were "speculation."

Four people were also injured in the Antrim attack, including two pizza delivery men. Two men were arrested in connection with the shooting of Constable Carroll in Craigavon on Tuesday.

The surge in violence follows more than a decade of relative calm on the streets of Northern Ireland.

Police have denied there are plans to release security camera footage of the attacks on Massarene barracks in Antrim.

An interview with the family of murdered PSNI officer, Constable Stephen Paul Carroll, was carried out by local television on Wednesday evening and will be released to the media Thursday night. Constable Carroll will be buried tomorrow in his hometown of Banbridge in County Down.

The sudden outbreak of violence has been met with widespread revulsion across Northern Ireland's divided Roman Catholic and Protestant communities. Political leaders from all sides have condemned the attacks, including Sinn Féin, the party linked to the now disarmed Provisional IRA, the main republican player in Northern Ireland's 30-year "Troubles."

As the Monitor reported Thursday, more than 10,000 people gathered in Belfast Wednesday to hold a rally demanding an end to dissident violence.

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