Days of disturbances in the North this week amounted to a show of strength by so-called “dissidents” following a recent PSNI crackdown.
The scale and co-ordination of the bomb alerts marked a significant change in tactics, causing most disruption in areas where the Provisional IRA was once strongest. Although the actions were clearly orchestrated, no group has claimed responsibility for the trouble.
The upsurge in unrest on a level not seen in years comes three weeks after the ‘Real IRA’ and the Continuity IRA killed two British soldiers and a member of the PSNI in separate attacks.
Many of the incidents involved suspicious vehicles left near PSNI bases, forcing the PSNI and British Army to mount significant operations to deal with the threats. Several key roads in the greater Belfast area were shut down by hijacked vehicles or as a result of bomb alerts.
North and west Belfast and north Armagh were areas of high activity, although incidents were reported in Fermanagh and in Bangor in County Down.
The trouble appeared to begin at about 4pm on Tuesday, when a burning van was used to block a road in the Ardoyne area of Belfast. Over a dozen vehicles, including a lorry and a delivery van, were abandoned in different parts of the city. Royal Mail vans, Northern Ireland Electricity and Northern Ireland Water Service vehicles were frequently targeted for use in barricades or as decoys.
Between two and four masked men were involved in each of these incidents, according to the PSNI. One driver whose van was seized and burned in a barricade in west Belfast yesterday spoke of his initial concern that it was a prank.
“These guys had scarves and hoodies on which made me think they were jokers - then you see a firearm and realise it wasn’t a joke,” he said.
The man said the hijackers who targeted him were not youths but aged in their late thirties or forties.
Power cuts in Belfast and Derry were thought to be connected to the disorder, which provoked criticism from the political and media spheres.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the “actions of the violent few” were “futile”.
“Under no circumstances will we, as the democratically elected representatives of the people, allow a process that people had invested so much in to collapse because of the activities of people who represent nobody but themselves,” he said.
Today [Friday] the ‘Real IRA’ in Derry claimed responsibility for a punishment shooting attack on a convicted rapist in the city earlier this week.
37-year-old Keith Burnside was injured in both legs by two masked men at his home just before midnight on Monday night.
Burnside had been convicted of the rape of a 15-year-old girl in 2000 and is due to be sentenced later this month.
Using a recognised codeword the group made in the statement in the name of Oglaigh na hEireann [the IRA].
It stated: “The Derry Brigade of Oglaigh na hEireann claims responsibility for Monday night’s shooting in Rosemount.
“We took action after we were inundated with complaints about the behaviour of this man. It is clear to us that this man is a sexual predator and that is why he was targeted.”