Northern Ireland: Terrorist attack foiled in Londonderry just minutes before mortars due to be fired at police station

'Mass fatalities' avoided in major coup for security forces as three men arrested

Ireland correspondent

An attempt by dissident republicans to stage a mortar attack in a built-up area of Londonderry could have caused multiple casualties, according to both police and local representatives.

But the attack was foiled in what appeared to be a clinical interception by police, who arrested three men just minutes before it was scheduled to take place.

Officers rammed a van carrying four primed mortars as dissidents were on their way to attack a police station. The security operation is regarded as a coup for the security forces, who evidently had clear intelligence of the terrorist plan.

Police Chief Superintendent Stephen Cargin said: “They were destined for a police station. It was a reckless attack. They were prepared to drive through a built-up area of the city to carry out this attack and cause mass fatalities.

“These devices were primed. They are crude home-made devices and there is no way people who made these bombs would be certain they would have hit their target. There would have been mass murder of police, and serious damage to property.”

Although there was huge relief that the attack was averted, it was tempered by the fact that splinter groups such as the Real IRA have been expanding their armoury with weapons such as mortars and rockets.

Such organisations are small and, as the Londonderry incident indicates, have been heavily infiltrated by the security forces, who use both informants and sophisticated surveillance methods to penetrate them.

While many of the terrorist operations go wrong, their campaign continues and can occasionally result in fatalities. The last of these came several months ago when prison officer David Black was shot dead as he drove along a motorway to work.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said he wanted to pay tribute to police “for preventing what could have been a terrible loss of life in an attack which was clearly designed to damage the peace process.”

He added: “Increasingly people are providing information which is the proper thing to do so that we can thwart the efforts of those who would try to destroy the peace that is so admired throughout the world.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable