IRA rocket attack outside courts as tensions grow

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The Independent Online
A police officer narrowly escaped with his life when the IRA launched a rocket attack on a security post at Belfast's main courts complex yesterday.

The device, from a bazooka-like shoulder-held launcher, was fired by a terrorist from a hijacked car which drew up alongside the post. The Royal Ulster Constabulary officer was saved from serious injury by diving for cover and by the reinforced glass fitted to the small post. He was able to walk away after the attack, but was taken to hospital suffering from minor injuries, shock and damage to his eardrums.

Within hours, the Belfast Brigade of the IRA confirmed it was responsible, amid growing fears that the attack could prompt a return to full-blown sectarian violence.

Yesterday, the outlawed Ulster Freedom Fighters, who tried to kill two senior republicans in Belfast and Londonderry last month in revenge for IRA action, told their political representatives they wanted to keep the peace process alive.

But Gary McMichael, leader of the Ulster Democratic Party warned: "I think there is a feeling of despondency that the IRA appear to be intent with dragging all of the people of Northern Ireland back into a conflict situation."

The IRA claim of responsibility also included warnings that bombs had been left at a number of Belfast hotels, but these turned out to be hoaxes.

The incident was the latest in a series of IRA attacks in Belfast and elsewhere in recent weeks. The fact that most of them have been abortive has led to speculation that the IRA was engaged in a "phoney war" intended to threaten rather than actually inflict casualties. However, this is firmly denied by republican and security sources.

The courts complex, which includes the Northern Ireland High Court and legal adminstration offices, is heavily-fortified and well-guarded as a result of dozens of attacks on it in the course of the troubles. In yesterday's incident, the target was clearly not the courts themselves but police personnel on duty outside.

The complex is on the edge of the city centre, but is also close to the republican Markets area of the city, where the IRA has a significant presence. The car used in the attack was found abandoned there afterwards. It had been set on fire to destroy any evidence left in the vehicle.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he regretted the incident, as he regretted loyalist murder attacks on republicans and what he termed "RUC attacks" on nationalist homes. He said: "The genie is out of the bottle," adding that the task for politicians was to put it back.

Jack O'Sullivan, page 15