PSNI claims that the New IRA collaborated with loyalists in a gun attack against one of its senior figures has been widely ridiculed and rejected by the armed group itself.
Briefings to journalists from the PSNI investigation suggested that the New IRA had exploited the availability of weapons in Protestant areas to secure an arms supply for the attack and claimed that the operation was a joint venture with criminals.
In a carefully planned attack at a sports centre outside Omagh last month, a senior figure in the PSNI, John Caldwell, was shot four times by a New IRA active service unit. In the aftermath, eight men were arrested, including three Protestants. All were subsequently released.
The New IRA have since responded to the bizarre PSNI claims of loyalist involvement by confirming the entire operation was carried out by the organisation and involved no outside input.
“This was an IRA operation, carried out by IRA volunteers, using IRA weapons,” they told the Irish News. “The IRA refutes anything to do with loyalism.”
They revealed that in addition to the team that opened fire, two other backup teams, which were also armed, were involved.
A spokesperson added that the organisation has little concern for how many people from the Protestant community are arrested by the PSNI, adding that “it shows the ineptitude of their investigation”.
The claims of collaboration with loyalist criminals may be an attempt to smear the New IRA group following one of the most high profile attacks carried out by the organisation in several years.
The criminalisation bid also coincidentally came on the anniversary of the start of the 1981 hunger strike, in which a similar agenda of the era was defeated by republican prisoners. If intended as such, the effort was unsuccessful.
A wave of social media ridicule and sensationalist journalism followed the claims which also provoked Sinn Féin demands for clarification. Within 48 hours, the PSNI was forced to confirm that the New IRA was solely responsible for the attack.
Nationalists and republicans have been warned to be alert to other so-called ‘dirty tricks’ as British forces seek to manipulate pubic opinion ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
One of these involved a bomb alert in Keady, County Armagh, which was exposed as bogus after a reported ‘suspect package’ turned out to be an empty crisp packet and a bottle of beer (pictured). The alert was used to justify road closures and a major policing operation in a republican area.
Meanwhile, despite the release of all those detained last week, the harassment of republican activists has continued. Saoradh has protested after one of its members was illegally placed in danger by a PSNI stop and search operation.
The chair of the Tyrone branch of the organisation was travelling in his car on the outskirts of a loyalist area when he was suddenly blocked in by Crown Force armouned vehicles. The young man was taken from his vehicle by “balaclava clad, machine gun toting Crown Force personnel”, they said, before having his phone and car seized.
Left on a dark country road, the activist was forced to walk a number of miles before reaching a safe area where he could make contact with family and friends.
Saoradh representative, Paddy Gallagher, said: “Despite an upsurge in arbitrary stop and searches, homes being raided, cars being taken and Republicans being taken away for interrogation, this attempted intimidation will not deter Republicans from carrying out legitimate political activism in working class communities. If they think that this will break us, then they are mistaken.”