A number of letter bombs targeting senior officials in Northern Ireland have been intercepted, in a campaign linked to dissident Republican groups. PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott, Derry Area Commander Detective Inspector John Burrows, the Public Prosecution Service and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers have all been targeted by a series of devices, intercepted between 25-29 October. The four bombs found and defused in this period were confirmed to be similar in construction and are likely to have come from the same source. These attempted attacks came shortly after pipe bombs were thrown at a police patrol in Newtownabbey on October 23 and a similar ambush in Londonderry on October 22 (see last report) The attacks therefore highlight a continuing trend of republican violence against security forces.
Public reaction to the letter bombs has been defiant. Police have urged caution over suspect packages, although the risk currently appears to be primarily to postal workers, security forces and public figures. While the construction and delivery of the devices continues to underscore the ability of dissident groups to build viable weapons, the tactics employed in sending them through the post are unlikely to succeed. With no realistic chance of the target opening the device, the series of bombs is either a particularly amateurish strategy or, possibly more likely, an effort to gain publicity and cause disruption.
The spate of recent attacks on police suggests that the dissidents will continue to try to kill police officers despite numerous failures (noted in the Monitor of 24 October). The ability of the post office to intercept these devices indicates a continued high awareness of all potential threats in Northern Ireland, the capability of the security forces is doing much to mitigate the potential disruption. However, as Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris noted in his address to MPs on 29 October dissident groups seem “entirely wedded to the route of violence” and there remains little suggestion that attacks are likely to ease in the short term.