Fermanagh bomb: PSNI plea for political progress after murder bid

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Media caption‘A sense that things are becoming more entrenched’ : Police on bomb attack

A senior police chief has appealed for political progress in Northern Ireland after bombers tried to lure officers to their deaths.

Police said dissident republicans were behind the explosion near Wattlebridge, close to the Irish border, on Monday.

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin called the Fermanagh attack a “reckless and indiscriminate” attempt to kill police officers.

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since January 2017.

Power sharing collapsed in a row between Sinn Féin and the DUP over a flawed green-energy scheme. Attempts to restore it have so far failed.

DCC Martin said the bomb attack may have been carried out by either the Continuity IRA or the New IRA.

There have been five attempts to murder police officers so far this year, he said, adding that there was a sense that the situation in Northern Ireland is becoming “more entrenched”.

At about 10:35 BST on Monday, police officers reported an explosion at Cavan Road close to its junction with the Wattlebridge Road.

No-one was injured.

Initially, a report received by police suggested that a device had been left on the Wattlebridge Road.

Police believe that a hoax device was used to lure police and soldiers into the area in order to catch them by surprise with a real bomb.

Last month, dissident republicans tried to murder police officers in Craigavon, County Armagh.

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A police officer at the scene of the bomb at Cavan Road, Fermanagh

‘Attempt to lure police’

DCC Martin said those behind the attack “bring nothing to society”.

“I am of a firm belief this was a deliberate attempt to lure police and the Army disposal unit into the area,” he said.

“The damage caused by the explosion is of a nature that we are of the view, if a person had been standing convenient to it, they would have been very badly injured or possibly killed.”

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The area around the scene will remain closed for some time

DCC Martin called on politicians to provide leadership.

“We need a society led by our politicians to absolutely set out, not just condemn, but to work collectively together,” he said.

“Police play their part, but police on their own are not sufficient to say ‘you do not represent the society we want to live in’.

“Many of us, and many have reflected to me, that things are becoming more entrenched and progress that has been made is maybe slipping back a bit.”

Analysis by Julian O’Neill, BBC News NI home affairs correspondent

Police have found the seat of the blast, but have said nothing about the device itself or how it was detonated.

They are certain, however, that they were lured into a trap involving a telephone warning and a hoax device discovered close to where the actual bomb went off during a follow-up security operation.

Although police are not being specific about which group they believe are responsible, the PSNI is considering links to a Continuity IRA attack in Craigavon three weeks ago.

This also involved setting up officers using a hoax device and a live booby trap nearby.

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Police at the scene of the explosion near Fermanagh

At the scene – Julian Fowler, BBC News NI

Wattlebridge is a small rural border community of farms, houses and an Orange Hall next to a stone bridge across the Finn River.

The busy Cavan Road criss-crosses the border four times in six miles between Clones and Belturbet.

Journalists have gathered at a police cordon about a half a mile from the road junction where the device exploded.

On the southern side, gardaí are directing traffic away from the scene.

Several police cars have been coming and going while a PSNI helicopter and a surveillance aircraft have patrolled the skies overhead.

Wattlebridge has been the scene of many alerts. In June, a hoax device was found near the Orange hall.

Local residents heard the bang of the explosion as far as a mile away. It is expected to disrupt local people’s lives for some time.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar condemned the attack

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said he condemned the “cowardly actions” of the bombers.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith tweeted that he was following events closely.

“I commend the bravery of police and others working to keep us safe,” he said.

Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew said the attack was “totally wrong”.

“Those responsible for this incident have nothing to offer society and need to end these actions immediately,” she said.

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DUP leader Arlene Foster said this was “a clear attempt to kill”

DUP leader Arlene Foster tweeted: “My thoughts are with the police officers/ATOs who escaped injury in Wattle Bridge.

“A reminder of the bravery of our security forces. The threat from republican terrorists still exists. It’s time they left the stage & allowed everyone to move on.

“This was a clear attempt to kill.”

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