PICTURE EXCLUSIVE: TWO men have faced a court charged in connection with the discovery of four mortar bombs on Sunday.
The dissident republican suspects were arrested during a covert security force operation when police stopped a van in the Brandywell area of Derry/Londonderry.
Seamus McLaughlin, of Eastway Gardens, Creggan, and Gary McDaid, of Glenowen Park were remanded in custody.
There were scuffles outside Derry Magistates Court between supporters of the men and police dressed in riot suits.
The pair are jointly charged with having explosives with intent to endanger life, conspiracy to cause an explosion, and having a van for terrorist purposes.
McDaid, 37, and 35-year-old McLaughlin waved to their supporters as they were brought into the dock at Londonderry magistrates court on Wednesday morning.
A detective constable told the court she believed she could connect the defendants with the charges.
She told district judge Barney McElholm that at around 8.15 pm last Sunday, police stopped a white Citroen Berlingo van and a Honda motorcycle on the Letterkenny Road in Londonderry, at its junction with Lone Moor Road.
The female detective from the PSNI’s Serious Crime Branch said the driver of the van was Seamus McLaughlin and the driver of the motorcycle was Gary McDaid.
Both men were arrested under the Terrorism Act. A third man, 37-year-old Thomas Ashe Mellon, was arrested later at a house but has since been released unconditionally.
She said police searched the van and found four mortars located in launch tubes, secured in a frame and ready for imminent deployment.
The weapons contained substantial quantities of explosives.
She said officers also found a blast incendiary device in the front passenger foot well of the van, that police suspected it was intended to be used to destroy forensic evidence from the van following the deployment of the mortars.
They also found two kitchen timer units, two toggle switches attached to the timers in a plastic lunch-type box and a vehicle battery in the front passenger foot well. The driver’s seat was covered in plastic.
The detective constable told the court that a large hole had been cut out of the roof of the van and it had been covered in tape.
The investigating officer said McLaughlin was wearing rubber gloves and forensic overshoes, and several layers of clothing, including high visibility trousers underneath his jeans.
When the motorcycle was stopped, Mr McDaid was in possession of two motorcycle helmets and officers suspect he was travelling in convoy with the white van.
The detective constable added that police believed the second helmet was intended for Mr McLaughlin and the the plan was that he would be a pillion passenger on the motorcycle following the intended mortar attack.
The court heard both suspects were intensively interviewed by police after arrest.
Mr McLaughlin refused to talk throughout the interview process and did not provide any account of his presence in the van or of the mortars.
He could not account for the layers of clothing or the forensic overshoes.
McDaid told police during interview that he had been riding an old motorbike, and was making his way back into Derry when he was stopped. He said he was going to get petrol, but there was no money in his possession.
Mr McDaid provided a partial account of how he obtained the motorbike and his whereabouts, but the court was told that police carried out inquiries regarding his movements and do not accept this to be a truthful account.
Objecting to bail, the investigating officer said police believed the circumstances clearly indicate the defendants were active and prominent members of dissident republican groups.
Defence solicitors said neither defendant had any relevant record, the police had only circumstantial evidence and there did not appear to be any forensic evidence at this stage.
They said their clients would abide by any conditions set by the court and would appear for trial.
However, Judge Barney McElholm said there was a very strong circumstantial case that both were involved in serious terrorist activity.
He said there was very much a risk of flight and the fear that they would commit further offences was a very real one.
The defendants were refused bail and both men were remanded in custody to Maghaberry prison to appear again via video link on Thursday, March 28..
Supporters of the accused cheered and clapped as they were driven away from the courthouse by police.
The mortar bombs were found in the van and the roof of the vehicle had been cut back to allow the mortars to be fired.
The Dublin-registered white Citroen Berlingo van was intercepted just a few minutes from its intended target, Strand Road PSNI station.
The attack was foiled following a lengthy surveillance operation by MI5, the Army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) and the PSNI’S ‘C3’ North Region Intelligence Branch.
About 100 families had to leave their homes at Letterkenny Road during the overnight alert.
It wasn’t until the following afternoon were the devices made safe by Army technical officers.
A third man arrested was leading dissident republican Thomas Ashe Mellon.
The 37-year-old was arrested in a follow-up operation after police searched a house.
In 1999, then aged 23, Mellon was charged over a bomb making find in Manorcunningham, Co Donegal but the following year he walked to freedom after the charges were dropped.