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False IRA Bomb Threats in Belfast

October 29, 2002

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ False bomb threats from Irish Republican Army dissidents forced thousands to evacuate Tuesday from two of Belfast’s premier shopping centers.

No explosives were found after police searched CastleCourt in downtown Belfast and Forestside on the capital’s south side. Earlier, callers claiming to represent two different dissident groups _ the Continuity IRA and Real IRA _ claimed they planted bombs in both malls.

The city’s senior police commander, Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, said his forces had to take all threats seriously, particularly after the Continuity IRA left a van bomb Friday in downtown Belfast. That device, involving a pipe bomb attached to several fuel drums, failed to explode.

In a related development Tuesday, detectives interrogated a suspected IRA dissident after discovering a homemade mortar in a Catholic neighborhood of Londonderry.

The mortar was a type designed by IRA engineers in the late 1980s to be fired at armored vehicles. Such a device was used to kill a police officer in Londonderry in 1994.

The Real IRA and the Continuity IRA oppose the IRA’s 1997 cease-fire and peace agreement that followed in 1998. The accord led to a joint Catholic-Protestant administration for the British territory, but Britain stripped the coalition of power and resumed sole control on Oct. 14 after Protestants threatened to resign over continued IRA activities.

Politicians have warned that armed extremists on both sides of the community want to exploit the political vacuum. Protestant hard-liners demand that police do more to break the dissident IRA groups, believed to number no more than 100 members.

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