The lives of scores of people were put at risk in Northern Ireland as a stream of vehicles were allowed to pass within feet of a van containing a large bomb, it emerged yesterday.
The vehicle, loaded with a viable 225kg device, was thought to have been abandoned by dissident Republicans near the city of Newry on one of Northern Ireland’s busiest roads, the A1 from Belfast to Dublin.
Although the area around the van was coned off, police for some reason left the area on Saturday, even though two phone calls warning of a bomb and using recognised code words were made to a local hospital.
In their absence, cones and signs were moved out of the way and many motorists continued to pass close by the vehicle.
The device, which was inside a wheelie bin, was made safe by army bomb disposal experts.
Police said it was a sophisticated and substantial bomb that could have caused huge devastation and loss of life.
The incident came less than a week after the murder of Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr, 25, who was killed by a booby-trap bomb planted underneath his car.
The officer’s funeral was attended by unionist and nationalist elements in what was regarded as an impressive show of political and communal unity.
The Newry bomb is seen as a stark message from the dissidents that they are completely unmoved by the public outcry and intend to carry on with their campaign of violence.
None of the various republican splinter groups which are active has claimed responsibility for the killing, and none has attempted to advance explanations for the continuing attacks. Instead, this latest incident is clearly intended to convey that they are oblivious to the tide of public opinion.
Police said the van bomb was intended for another location but that police activity had disrupted the terrorists’ plans. A spokesman said a town centre may have been the target.