Republican dissidents in bomb attack on TA base

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The Independent Online

Irish republican dissidents yesterday emphasised their continuing threat to peace in Northern Ireland with a bomb attack on a military base in north Belfast.

An explosive device was thrown over the perimeter wall of a Territorial Army base in the Antrim Road area of the city around 1am. No one was injured in the incident. It is thought that no Territorial Army soldiers were in the base at the time and civilian guards were on duty. Such guards have been used increasingly in recent years as the security threat has diminished.

Northern Ireland has numerous TA bases and thousands of people have served in the TA over the years. But they were never deployed in the Troubles and although their bases were attacked on occasion they were not high-priority targets for republicans.

After the early-morning explosion police and army bomb-disposal experts went to the scene of the blast, which was within the grounds of the barracks. The area, which is within a residential district, was sealed off during the day.

Local Democratic Unionist councillor Ian Crozier said: "I heard an almighty bang. Thankfully nobody was hurt. I am very concerned about the potential injury to soldiers but also to civilians as this is a residential area. This was a grossly irresponsible act."

The army said yesterday that all bases were "fully guarded". Over the past decade many army bases have closed down. In some cases housing has been built on the sites so that there is no sign that the military were ever there.

In one sense the TA base was an easy target, and the chances of fatalities being caused by a device lobbed over a fence in the early hours of the morning were slight.

It is, nonetheless, another sign that small dissident republican splinters, opposed to the peace process, are not only active but are now staging attacks in parts of Northern Ireland.

The security forces have made a priority of targeting the dissidents, maintaining surveillance on them and attempting to "turn" members into agents working for police Special Branch.

But although there have been many arrests and a number of charges have been brought, the menace has if anything been growing in recent months.

One complicating factor is the existence of at least three separate groups, the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and ONH.

Last week, in another part of Belfast, the partner of a police dog handler narrowly avoided serious injury when a booby-trap device, planted by ONH, exploded under her car. The intention was to murder the officer, who often used the vehicle.

Sinn Fein condemned yesterday's TA attack, saying: "Whatever group was responsible, they need to realise that they will not succeed in their attempts to derail the peace process."