By Jack Holland
Amid rumors of a pending bomb attack by republican dissidents, the Northern Ireland police intercepted a van containing a so-called barrack buster mortar. It is believed that the mortar bomb, weighing 200 pounds, was about to be used in an attack on Lisnaskea RUC station in County Fermanagh.
Shots were fired and four men were arrested. Some sources say they had previous links to the Provisional IRA. But a security source claims the four are now members of the Real IRA, the splinter group responsible for the 1998 bombing of Omagh, which left 29 dead.
The mortar find came two weeks after police uncovered over 500 pounds of explosives in a horsebox just outside Belfast. The device has also been linked to the RIRA.
In the mid-1980s the Provisionals used a horsebox as one way of moving explosives from County Tyrone into Belfast. It was around the same time they also developed the barrack buster mortar. A few weeks ago, one was fired at a police station in Armagh. It failed to explode.
There have been allegations that members of the Provisionals are helping RIRA activists in certain areas. But reliable sources claim that such assistance is not being sanctioned at high levels.
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Relationships between the RIRA and the Provisionals have in fact deteriorated because of the recent murder of RIRA’s Belfast leader, Joe O’Connor, a killing widely blamed on the Provisional IRA. However, in a move that indicates the anxiety felt in the Provisional leadership over possible defections to the dissidents, Sinn Fein has said that it will no longer condemn RIRA bombings or attempted bombings.
In another development, £1 million worth of heroin was seized by police north of Belfast last week, and three men were arrested. According to security sources, they had no paramilitary links. But it is known that loyalist paramilitaries have been involved in the importation of drugs into Northern Ireland, including small quantities of heroin.