Republican splinter group 'behind firebomb attacks'

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The Independent Online

Dissident republicans are being blamed for a wave of firebomb attacks which caused serious damage to four retail outlets in Newry, County Down.

Incendiary devices were placed in two city centre stores and in two shops on the city outskirts on Tuesday evening. A total of nine devices went off, starting fires which were not doused until 2am yesterday. Police continued to search various premises, warning that other devices might have been planted. The cost of the damage is estimated at millions of pounds and there are concerns that jobs could be lost. About 125 firefighters were involved in tackling the blazes, which destroyed the JJB Sports and CarpetRight stores and damaged an MFI outlet and a TK Maxx store.

The republican undergrowth contains at least two breakaway outfits, the Continuity IRA (CIRA) and the Real IRA (RIRA), who are prime suspects for the attacks. One suggestion is that the bombings were timed to mark the 35th anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial.

The local Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy said: "These groups have little or no support within this community and they do not have a strategy to deliver Irish unity and independence." Chief Inspector Gary Hagan of the Northern Ireland Police Service, said: "It is difficult to comprehend what would be in the mind of people that would want to carry out these kind of attacks."

The CIRA planted explosive devices near police stations in Belfast and Armagh earlier this year, though no one was injured in the incidents. The RIRA is involved in similar activity but at a lower level, partly because an internal split has produced two rival factions.