Mortar attack is sign of Ulster escalation

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THE LAUNCHING of a mortar attack on an RUC station city early yesterday is seen as an ominous escalation of the capabilities of republican renegades opposed to the peace process and the IRA ceasefire.

No one was injured in the attack, in which several mortars were fired from a metal frame which was described as home-made but well-constructed. Only one of the devices exploded, causing little damage, while another landed near some houses.

The attack attracted widespread condemnation, the critics pointing out that mortars have proved a notoriously inaccurate weapons which can spray missiles over a wide area. The police station attacked is in a heavily- populated area.

Sinn Fein leaders were quick to say they did not believe the IRA was involved. Gerry Adams, saying he was keeping an open mind on who was responsible, added: "I do not believe the IRA was engaged. Their cessation stands."

Security sources yesterday suspected, but were not totally certain, that the incident was the work of the Continuity Army Council, which opposes the peace process. The grouping has stepped up its level of activity in recent weeks with car-bomb attacks causing substantial damage to several town centres.

This attack is worrying for the authorities in that, if the CAC proves to be responsible, it will represent the first mortar attack ever carried out by a grouping other than the mainstream IRA.

The devices used in the Armagh attack were said to be relatively small and of an old design. This would fit with the theory that CAC now has in its ranks some activists who left the IRA around 1986, and who are using elderly though still potentially lethal technology.

Although most mortar attacks have not taken life, the weapon is one of those most feared by the security forces because of its potential to deliver explosives, without warning, into security force installations. One mortar caused the greatest single loss of life ever sustained by the RUC when a missile hit and demolished a crowded police canteen, killing nine police officers, in Newry, Co Down in 1985.

n Two men were charged last night with the murders of Philip Allen and Damien Trainor, shot dead a week ago in a pub in the village of Poyntzpass, Co Armagh.