DISSIDENT republicans were plotting a massive jail break on Hallowe’en night but switched plans instead to murder a prison officer yesterday.
BELFAST DAILY can reveal that the plan to grab global headlines for a huge jailhouse escape had been in the pipeline for the past year.
However, on Tuesday night dissident republican leaders sent a message to inmates in Magilligan and Maghaberry jails to call a halt to the jail escape.
Last night, pressure was mounting on loyalist paramilitaries inside the UVF and UDA to hit back despite Mr Black’s family appeal for “no retaliation”.
“It’s make or break for the loyalist paramilitary leaderships. Too many hawks want a return to war,” said a senior loyalist figure on the Shankill Road.
“This murder has lit their flame. They just see the murder of Mr Black as an act of war.”
A dissident republican source told BELFAST DAILY: “The prisoners were told that the leadership had another plan to put them on the global map and grab international headlines.
“The jail break out is now on hold. They have got all the headlines they wanted now by murdering a prison officer.’’
Sources said the murder of David Black was carried out by the north Armagh brigade of the Continuity IRA, the same group which murdered Constable Stephen Carroll two years ago.
BELFAST DAILY exclusively revealed plans for a jail break out plot two weeks ago.
We were told that dissident inmates were to use the deafening din of exploding Hallowe’en fireworks, bangers and rockets as a cover to mount their attempted breakout plan.
Explosives had been smuggled into both Magilligan and Maghaberry jails in recent months as inmates fine tuned their daring escape plan.
And a veteran masterbomber who has developed the under car booby trap bombs (UCBTs) is sharing his knowledge with fellow inmates the Hallowe’een ‘spooktacular’.
We learnt that dissidents planned to mount a “major distraction operation’’ inside Magilligan prison.
“While the authorities were dealing with the Magilligan incident, the dissidents were going to blow their way out of Maghaberry prison,’’ a dissident republican source has told us.
Last month, a loud bang was heard inside Magilligan prison in Co Derry shortly after breakfast time as dissident prisoners were putting the final touches to a small device.
A dissident source told us: “It was a mistake. It went off by accident. These are very dangerous times. The authorities need to be on alert.’’
In May this year, jail bosses in Magilligan prison received an intelligence tip off that dissidents were rapidly smuggling explosives into the Co Derry compound.
Following the high grade alert, visits were suspended and a security sweep was carried out of the jail during a five-day ‘news blackout’ but nothing was found.
“Just because nothing was found doesn’t mean to say there are not explosives in the jail already,’’ said a security source.
“There are a growing number of dissident republican prisoners now in Magilligan jail. They are obviously planning something.’’
The PSNI’s ‘C3’ Intelligence branch was also warned by an informant inside the renegade republican structure that explosives were already in Magilligan prison.
Added the dissident republican source: “Only a handful of people in Magilligan and Maghaberry knew the exact date of the breakout plan.’’
But just 24 hours before the jail breakout plan was to be set in motion, a prison officer in northArmaghwas pinpointed for a brutal murder.
And as the warder, who has 25 years service, drove to work yesterday, tailing dissident gunmen ambushed him just outside Portadown.
They raked his car with automatic gunfire, forcing his car to career off the road and crash.
Prison chiefs have been on their guard for months over fears that dissident inmates were planning a major spectacular.
On the morning of September 27, a loud bang was clearly heard in a part of Magilligan jail shortly before 10 am.
Even though it was a mistake, orders were sent in by the leadership of the dissident republican groups to forge ahead with the escape plan.
“They were told it was only a minor problem and to push ahead with the plan. That’s why they are all spread about Magilligan. They are all working together for a common purpose.’’
The loud jailhouse bang came in the same week a new ‘BOSS’ (body office security scanner) chair was unveiled in a pilot programme at Magilligan to prevent contraband items being smuggled into the Co Derry prison.
The following day, a fire broke out in Maghaberry prison in the dining room for Roe Houses 1 & 2 which is home to ‘ordinary decent criminals’ (ODCs).
Added the source: “The fire at Maghaberry was small and there were no injuries.
“It was a test to see how the response of the screws, to find out their reaction times and what else they do.
“Everybody involved in this plan has been given a specific task. There is an all out effort among the groups to grab the headlines globally.’’
A senior source has told BELFAST DAILY that the Continuity IRA gang had been targeting Mr Black for months.
The victim was a member of the Orange Order for 30 years with his Montober LOL 661 Lodge.
The Order Order’s Grand Lodge condemned his murder and appealed for anyone with information about the killing to contact police.
A senior dissident republican source told Belfast Daily: “This was a Continuity IRA operation which had been ongoing for time now.
“The Lurgan CIRA unit carried out the attack but they were acting on intelligence from a unit in east Tyrone.”
The getaway car was found burned out in Lurgan a short time after not far from the home of CIRA leader Colin Duffy.
Three of his brothers are currently on remand in Maghaberry prison charged with targeting prison officers.
This morning’s attack has been widely condemned as it was revealed that prison warders were living in fear of a terrorist attack before colleague David Black was shot dead this morning in a motorway gun ambush.
TUV leader Jim Allister said he had been recently contacted by prison officers who were in fear for their personal security.
And Prison Officers Association chairman Findlay Spratt has just told the Press Association: “They’ve stripped away all security around prison officers.
“They treat us as we’re living in normal society.”
Prison officer David Black was driving from his home in Cookstown, Co Tyrone when he was ambushed by the Continuity IRA.
Mr Black, a 52-year-old married grand father with two grown up children, a son and a daughter, worked at the top security Maghaberry prison in Co Antrim.
He had previously served in the former Maze prison during the height of the Troubles.
The Black’s family minister, Rev Tom Greer, said his family has appealed for no retaliation “from any quarter”.
“David’s wife Yvonne is broken by the loss of her husband,” he said.
“His children Kyle and Kyra are in a state of shock and are unable to comprehend what has happened, the brutal murder of their father.”
Mr Greer, from Molesworth Presbyterian Church, said that Mr Black was a man who had a “great sense of humour” and was “devoted” to his family and aged parents.
“He was also a guy who was a friend to so many people in this community,” he added.
It is the second tragedy to strike the family in the past year. In November last year, Mrs Black lost her father in a slurry tank accident at his farm in Maghera.
It was well known in security circles for a number of years that dissident republicans were intent on murdering a prison officer.
A dissident republican cell is based in east Tyrone and is said to have intelligence files on a number of targets.
Those fears were heightened this morning when a married colleague with over 30 years service was ambushed and shot dead as he went to work.
The serious terrorist incident happened at 7.30 am on the M1 motorway outside Portadown.
Gunmen tailed the married man’s car from his home and opened fire on him, forcing his car to crash.
TUV leader Jim Allister said today: “I was shocked and saddened to hear of this morning’s brutal murder of a Prison Officer. One cannot begin to imagine the feelings of his family at this time. They will be in the thoughts and prayers of people across the Province and further afield,” said the North Antrim MLA.
“Once again violent Republicanism has brought death to our streets. This murder is no different from the many other attacks on Prison Service staff carried out by the Provisional IRA. There was no justification then and there is no justification now.
“I have been contacted by Prison Officers who have expressed fears about their personal safety and the inadequate response of the authorities when concerns were raised.
“I hope that today’s tragic events will lead to a renewed focus on the safety of staff so that all measures necessary are taken to ensure that the risk to those serving their community is minimised,” added the TUV leader
The attack comes less than 24 hours after Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said dissident republican violence had dropped by 20 per cent over the past year.
She branded the prison officer’s killers as “cowardly and evil”.
The murder also points up a major intelligence gap between MI5 and the PSNI’s ‘C3’ Intelligence Branch who are charged with fighting dissident republicans and thwarting their attacks.
Two police officers – Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr – have been murdered in the last three years by dissident republicans.
And Peadar Heffron miraculously survived and under car booby trap bomb in January 2010.
Constable Heffron and Constable Kerr were both victims of the dissident cell in east Tyrone.
In a joint statement, First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness said there could be no justification for this murder.
“People who work for the Prison Service play a crucial role in our community and any attack on them is an attack on all of us,” they said.
“Actions like this have no place in society and those who carried out this murder have nothing positive to contribute.
“We refuse to let the people behind this attack divert us from building a better and peaceful future for everyone.”
Justice Minister David Ford said the murder was “shocking news for everyone in Northern Ireland”.
“My sympathy goes out to his family and colleagues. It is a family and a human tragedy,” he said.
“But this is a sign of those seeking to drag us back into the past when most of NI is preparing for a different future.”
Mr Ford said that dissident republicans – thought to be behind the attack – had very little support but could be ruthless.
He said the threat level in Northern Ireland remained severe and individual prison and police officers had been targeted.
“But it is a matter of getting the measure of the deadly threat and yet the limited support that it has.”
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: “Somebody who got out of bed this morning to do nothing more unusual than to get in his car and go to work has been brutally murdered as he drove along the motorway,” UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said.
“We’re hearing that there’s a car burnt out in north Lurgan and so it does seem to have the hallmarks of a terrorist assassination.”
The attack happened on a section of the motorway between the M12 Portadown turn-off and the Lurgan interchange, heading towards Belfast.
The motorway has been closed in both directions.
A car has been found burned out in the Lurgan area.
Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his thoughts were with the dead man’s family.
He expressed his anger that there was a small element in society that “were determined to drag us back to the dark days of the past”.
Northern Ireland Education Minister John O’Dowd described the man’s death as a “human tragedy”.
“There is no justification for continued conflict in this society,” he said.
SDLP Upper Bann MLA, Dolores Kelly, said the incident was “sickening and disturbing”.
East Belfast Alliance MP Naomi Long also expressed her sadness following the shooting.
“It has particular ramifications for people,” she said.
“It is very distressing but also very upsetting in a political way. What the people in Northern Ireland want is for this to be over.”
Dissident republicans have been targeting prison officers over the past number of years over alleged ill treatment in Maghaberry Prison.
Groups such as Oglaigh na hEireann and the Continuity IRA have gathering intellgience on off duty prison officers in Lisburn and the north Armagh areas.
During the Troubles, 30 members of the Prison Service were killed by terrorists.
The last to be murdered was 44-year-old Jim Peacock who was shot dead by the UVF in Septmber 1993.