EXCLUSIVE: DISSIDENT republicans tried to kill a SECOND prison warder yesterday, Belfast Daily has been told.
Sources close to dissident republicans in Belfast said the attack was part of an escalation in activity by Oglaigh na hEireann in the run up to Christmas.
Yesterday, a suspicious object was found outside Springhill Primary School in north Belfast.
Following two controlled explosions, Army disposal experts told police that it was a viable under car booby trap (UCBT) device.
They believed it had fallen off the underside of a car and landed on the road close to the school.
Its discovery forced pupils and staff in Springhill, Harmy, Springfield and Forthriver to stay indoors until the area was declared safe for them to leave.
Late last night, Belfast Daily was contacted by a reliable dissident republican source who said the target for attack was a prison officer.
“They are stepping up their campaign in the run up to Christmas. People have written them off at their peril,” said the source.
“It is my information they were trying to kill a second prison officer. Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) has very good intelligence on warders, especially those working in Maghaberry.”
Security sources said that a number of prison officers do live in the area where the bomb was found.
But a security source said: “It is only one theory being investigated. Other lines of inquiry are also being looked at, including if the car belonged to an off duty police officer.”
Belfast Daily revealed on November 2 that Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) were putting the final touches to a dastardly plan to murder another prison officer while off duty somewhere in the Co Antrim area.
The threat came the day after the newly formed group calling itself ‘The IRA’ shot dead prison officer David Black as he drove to work on November 1.
A senior dissident republican source told Belfast Daily at the time that ONH were planning a copy-cat murder of prisoner officer David Black.
“I can tell you that ONH are intent on doing the same. I fear that it will be imminent.”
The source told Belfast Daily that ONH had been targeting a number of prison officers living in area around Belfast, Lisburn, Moira, and Maghaberry areas in recent months.
“This attack has been in the pipeline for some time. They have been doing a lot of targeting and a lot of intelligence gathering of prison officers while they are off duty.”
The source added that the murder of prison officer David Black was carried out for two reasons.
“The murder of David Black was designed to boost the morale of dissident republican inmates in Maghaberry and Magilligan prison.
“They say David Black was part of the system that was imposing a degrading regime on prisoners.
“They wanted a headline grabbing event. His murder got them the global publicity they had been after.”
As the Belfast Daily revealed last month, the original plan was for a massive jail break from Maghaberry prison on Hallowe’en night.
However, 24 hours before the plan was set in motion, dissident republican leaders sent in a message to both jails telling them to call off the plan as another ‘operation’ was about to go down.
The murder of 52-year-old David Black provoked a wave of national outrage as the father-of-two was close to retirement after over 30 years loyal service to the Prison Service.
In his hometown of Cookstown, Co Tyrone a book of condolence was opened for local people to express their sympathy to the grandfather.
Mr Black was attacked on the M1 motorway in County Armagh as he drove to work.
A car drove up beside his vehicle and fired a number of shots. His car veered into a ditch and he died at the scene.
Senior Continuity IRA figure Colin Duffy, 44 and a 31-year-old man were arrested in Lurgang in dawn swoops and were quizzed at Antrim Serious Crime Suite.
However, they had to be released after 48 hours when police were refused permission for an extention to their detention after the PSNI refused to hand over to Duffy’s defence team a copy of an intelligence report following the murder.
Mr Black was driving a black Audi A4, with the registration number HHZ 1560.
Officers want to hear from anyone who saw it after 07:00 GMT on Thursday when it travelled from Cookstown, through Stewartstown and onto the Tamnamore roundabout before going onto the M1 eastbound.
The killers were driving a dark blue Toyota Camry which had an Irish registration number, 94 D 50997. It was found burnt out in Inglewood in north Lurgan at 07:50 GMT.
In the House of Commons, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers warned that the public needed to be vigilant from the threat of dissident republicans in Northern Ireland which remained “severe”.
She paid tribute to Mr Black and welcomed the news that two arrests have been made.
“His dedication to duty and public service played a vital part to keep people in Northern Ireland safe from harm,” Mrs Villiers said.
“Our profound sympathies must go to all of his family and friends at this very difficult time, and to the prison service members who have lost such a valued friend.”
She reiterated the First and deputy First Minister’s words, that the attack was an “attack on all of us”.
“From my discussions yesterday in Belfast with the Chief Constable, I know that he and his officers will not rest until the perpetrators are brought to justice,” she added.
“This attack has demonstrated the gravity of the threat that dissident terrorist groups continue to pose. This is reflected in the threat level classification in Northern Ireland which remains at severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.
“The numbers involved in terrorism activities are small but these groupings have the capability and they have lethal intent.
“They can still ruin lives despite their lack of support within the community, so we remain vigilant,” she added.
The Secretary of State said that co-operation between PSNI and Garda Síochána has “never been better” and that this was vital to protect the public and pursue terrorists.
Mrs Villiers said the government would do whatever they could to help the PSNI in the case.
“Our overriding objective is to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure,” she said.
The Prime Minister made countering Northern Ireland terrorism a top tier priority in the 2010 National Security Strategy, and Mrs Villiers said an additional £200m had been made available over four years.
“Security measures on their own will not bring an end to this threat, defeating terrorists also requires the united determination of the people of Northern Ireland and their response has been clear, united and resolute.
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds asked for assurance that the government will provide appropriate resources for the PSNI investigation and protection for security forces in Northern Ireland.
“The government will continue to bear down hard on terrorism, it continues to be our highest priority to protect our citizens,” said the Secretary of State.
“And we will continue to devote the appropriate resources to enable the police service of Northern Ireland and its partners to continue their excellent work in protecting people in Northern Ireland,” she responded.
She also said terrorism threat levels are constantly reviewed by the government.
Meanwhile at the North South Ministerial Council in Armagh, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamonn Gilmore added their condemnation of the attack and pledged full cooperation from the Irish government and Garda Síochána in the investigation.
Sinn Fein deputy First Minister launched a broadside attack on dissidents who have threatened him in the past for condemning their activities.
Mr McGuinness said there was no prospect of the killers – who, he said, dressed up their criminality in a flag of political convenience – destroying the peace process.
“There is not a political party on this island that hasn’t subscribed to the criticism and condemnation of this murder,” he said.
“This is a 32-county problem and can only be dealt with by the PSNI and Garda.
“We can’t have a half-baked approach to people who wish to destroy everything that has been built up over the last 15 years.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said dissident republicans were linked to criminality and drug dealing which had also led to deaths on the streets of Dublin.
He said Mr Black’s murder had overshadowed North/South Ministerial Council meeting.
“We do not want to see a return to this, nobody on this island wants to see a return to this,” he said.
Brian Rae, chair of the NI Policing Board called on the public to show their support to the PSNI investigation into the murder.
He said:”What I would call for today is for the community to support the police in any way they can, that they will bring evidence, albeit small shreds of evidence and that they will lend their support fully and wholeheartedly.”