By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The SDLP offices in north Belfast were bombed and the Catholic communities of Ballymena and Larne, Co. Antrim, are living in fear after an upsurge in loyalist bomb attacks.
Also, at the weekend, dissident republicans were blamed for a 1,000-pound bomb found outside Armagh and an ineffectual attack on a police car in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, during which no one was injured.
On Wednesday, Jan. 10, two loyalists forced a pipe bomb through the mailbox of the SDLP offices on the Antrim Road before escaping by car into the notorious lower Shankill estate known as "Little Beirut."
One of the bombers wore a Celtic Football Club shirt as a disguise. A dozen youths playing football, and a scout group that uses the SDLP offices for meetings, escaped injury in the bombing.
SDLP member who uses the office Alban Maginness, has been vocal in calling for jailed loyalist paramilitary leader Johnny Adair to remain behind bars. Adair’s appeal against his return to jail following his release on license was rejected last Monday.
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Maginness, who was the first Catholic Lord Mayor of Belfast, said the attack was carried out by the UDA. He called it "a callous, cowardly attack" that came about because of his remarks about Adair. Although the front door had been open, a closed inner steel door with a buzzer system had prevented the blast causing major damage or injury.
Said Maginness: "I will not be deterred. I will continue to speak out as powerfully as I can on behalf of the nationalist people of north Belfast who elected me. I will not be silenced by paramilitaries or thugs who seek to have their way by using violence."
Meanwhile, the UDA has also been blamed by the RUC for a series of attacks in Larne, East Antrim. Two pipe bombs were thrown into Catholic houses within 24 hours as a wave of sectarian loyalist attacks intensified last week. In one attack, on Jan. 8, a bomb was thrown through the kitchen window and partially exploded. There were no injuries.
The Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr. Patrick Walsh, visited Larne to show his solidarity and call on all politicians to stand together and condemn the violence.
The next night, a neighboring Catholic family escaped injury when a similar device exploded in their living room, narrowly missing a mother and her son. There was a loud bang and the living room filled with acrid smoke.
A woman and her three children also escaped injury in nearby Ballymena after a device was thrown through the window of their home.
On Saturday night, in Coleraine, Co. Derry, a suspect device left on the doorstep of a Catholic family area forced several families out of their homes. Although the RUC described the incident as "a deliberate hoax," a detonator was found close to the scene of the incident.
Over £1,000 in damage was caused to a community hall near Toomebridge Co. Antrim in the early hours of Friday last week. Red, white and blue paint was daubed over the building.