EXCLUSIVE: POLICE believe renegade loyalists have targeted two Catholic Churches in reprisal for recent dissident republican pipe bomb attacks in north Belfast.
Intelligence reports warn that loyalists have a cache of pipe bombs along with a batch of lethal home made ‘druid’ grenades.
The pipe bombs are to be used to attack Catholic properties and businesses in retaliation for dissident attacks.
And the ‘druid’ grenades have been prepared to use in attacks on the PSNI during riot control duties over the Union flag protest row.
A security source said the ‘druid’ grenades would be “lethal” if thrown at police lines.
“They are a hand held ordinance with a fuse at the top. Police officers have been advised that if they see one of these being lobbed at them to hit the ground,” said the security source.
“It will explode upwards at a 45 degree angle. If police officers are in the standing position it will kill all within 20 feet.
“If it also has shrapnel and nails inside it will kill at a much greater range.
“Intelligence reports suggest that this is a renegade group outside the control of the UDA Inner Council.”
Police have seen a picture of ‘druid’ grenade but as yet have not located the hide containing the home made devices.
On Saturday evening, Army technical officers carried a controlled explosion on a suspect device found at a Catholic church in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim.
The ATO was tasked to the scene of an alert at St Mary’s Star of the Sea on the Shore Road and later removed the item for further examination.
The alert was declared a hoax.
Roads in the area were closed for a time and a service that had been due to be held in the church was moved to Greencastle Church.
On Friday, two viable pipe bombs were defused outside a Catholic Church in Ballyclare, Co Antrim.
Both attacks are believed by police to be the work of this renegade UDA grouping.
Father Anthony Alexander of St Mary’s Star of the Sea said: “It’s sad – it’s very, very sad that people do that sort of thing. I don’t know what they’re trying to prove.
“One great thing was the great support – local Presbyterians rang me last night and offered their support and they were praying for us this morning.
“It upset the old people and I feel sorry for the people who live across the way.
“I don’t know what the point is, but I’m not going to let it affect us or affect the parishioners. We will still worship God and that’s all we can do.”
Belfast Daily revealed last week that dissident republican group Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) were trying to “goad” loyalists back to war.
It followed two pipe bomb attacks in North Belfast.
The first viable device was left behind a cross community centre on the Shore Road.
Then ONH threw a pipe bomb at a police landrover as it passed the junction of Rosapenna Street and the Oldpark Road.
Both were declared viable devices and were defused by ATOs.
Dissident republican sources told Belfast Daily that ONH were trying to draw loyalists into retaliation.
A dissident republican told Belfast Daily: “ONH will be happy now. They have got a response from loyalists.
“Two churches attacked in two days. But at least it wasn’t some innocent taxi driver who was killed.
“These are very dangerous times. ONH are determined to keep up the attacks to see how far loyalists will respond.
“It is total madness. Somebody is either going to killed or seriously injured by one of these pipe bombs.”
The recent attacks have been condemned by police and politicians.
Alliance councillor Billy Webb said there could be no justification for an attack on a church.
“I am appalled that a place of worship has been targeted. There is no justification behind it,” he said.
“This follows a pipe bomb that was found outside a Catholic church in Ballyclare on Friday. These types of incidents are completely unacceptable.”
Anyone with information about the attacks is asked to contact the police on 0845 600 8000.