Northern Ireland police foil New IRA bomb plot to coincide with Joe Biden's visit

Police had warned about the possibility of violent dissident republican disorder over the Easter holiday

A sticker on a post near the Free Derry Wall, in Lononderry. The city was focus of police searches this week that uncovered an old weapon linked to a New IRA bomb plot. Bloomberg
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Police in Northern Ireland have foiled a New IRA plot designed to overshadow US President Joe Biden’s visit to Belfast to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The recovery of an old firearm in searches in Londonderry and the arrest of a prominent republican last week were both connected to a planned attack, according to a report in the Belfast Telegraph.

New IRA member Kieran McCool was arrested on Tuesday but freed without charge the following day after becoming ill.

He is currently on bail facing charges of constructing a firebomb used in the attempted murders of a part-time police officer and her three-year-old daughter. He has also been linked to the discovery of mortars in Strabane and Londonderry.

McCool, who has suffered two recent heart attacks, has been described by a police officer as “being a bomb-maker on behalf of the New IRA.”

Sources in Londonderry said the New IRA had plotted a bomb attack on the police service to coincide with the US President’s visit to Northern Ireland on Easter Tuesday.

They told the newspaper: “The PSNI spent four days searching around Kildrum Gardens and the Letterkenny Road, and then they were back last weekend in Coshowen with the British Army bomb squad.

“They were looking for parts to make a bomb. The belief is that the New IRA was planning some sort of attack to coincide with Biden’s visit, similar to the mortar attack on the cops in Strabane last November.”

New IRA’s Derry leader Thomas Mellon had reportedly demanded a “spectacular” event to overshadow the peace accord’s anniversary.

Police had warned about the possibility of violent dissident republican disorder over the Easter holiday.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton told a meeting of the Policing Board that dissidents could also be planning serious public disorder on Easter Monday.

“Strong” intelligence has been received that suggested terror attacks could be launched on officers in Londonderry on Monday.

Easter Monday is the day dissident republicans traditionally mark the anniversary of the Easter Rising rebellion against British rule in 1916, with a parade set to take place in Londonderry.

To counter the threat, PSNI said it will move officers to front-line duties on the bank holiday to counter any threats, in a strategy which has not been used “in years.”

MI5 recently raised the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland to “severe”, meaning an attack is highly likely.

That followed the gun attack on senior detective John Caldwell in County Tyrone in February. He suffered life-changing injuries.

Police have blamed the New IRA for the attack.

Mr Singleton said while dissident republican intent to kill police officers remained the same, he said officers were concerned they may use public disorder in Londonderry as a platform to launch attacks.

When asked about whether guns or explosives could be used to target police in Londonderry, Mr Singleton said: “We've seen that in the past and, on that basis, we have to be prepared for that and we will be prepared for all eventualities on Monday.”

On Tuesday evening, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will meet the President off Air Force One to welcome him to Northern Ireland and mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace accord. A further meeting with Mr Biden has been planned as part of the US President’s engagements.

The Good Friday Agreement ended a violent, 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland, with the creation of a new government representing nationalists and unionists, the two warring communities.

Brexit has in recent years destabilised the political situation, as Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK to have a border with an EU country, the Republic of Ireland.

“The Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement was an incredible moment in our nation’s history. It was a powerfully rare example of people doing the previously unthinkable to create a better future for Northern Ireland,” said Mr Sunak on Saturday.

“It is that promise of a better future that we offered to everyone in Northern Ireland that I will be thinking of first and foremost over the coming days,” he added. “It is my responsibility as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to ensure we are making good on that promise.”

Updated: April 11, 2023, 10:18 AM