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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen