Northern Ireland

‘IRA' claim responsibility for murder bid on prison officer

Police forensic experts at the scene of Friday's explosion
Police forensic experts at the scene of Friday's explosion Police forensic experts at the scene of Friday's explosion

A GROUP describing itself as the ‘IRA’ has said it used Semtex to try to kill a prison officer in east Belfast last week.

In a statement to The Irish News, the organisation said the long-serving officer was targeted because it claimed he had a role in training riot squad officers at Maghaberry Prison.

On Sunday night, police said three men and one woman have been arrested in connection with the attack.

The prison officer sustained serious injuries after the device exploded under his van in the Hillsborough Drive area, near Woodstock Road, at about 7amon Friday.

It is understood the device contained Semtex, a commercial detonator and a mercury tilt switch.

Although based at Hydebank Wood, on the outskirts of south Belfast, the 52-year-old officer is believed to be involved in training colleagues who are then deployed to the high-security Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim.

It is believed the officer previously worked at both Maghaberry and Long Kesh during his 28-year career and is also a former member of the Royal Navy.

Tensions in Maghaberry have been high in recent years with republicans claiming that authorities have reneged on a 2010 deal to end strip-searches and controlled movement.

In 2012 republicans ended a no-wash protest weeks after prison officer David Black was shot dead by the ‘IRA' as he travelled along the M1 on his way to work.

In a statement the group later said it killed the 52-year-old in "direct response" to tensions within the jail.

In 2014 the organisation claimed responsibility for sending two letter bombs addressed to prison officers at Maghaberry jail and warned of further attacks.

Using a recognised codeword, the group said responsibility for Friday’s attack rests with justice minister David Ford and prison service director-general Sue McAllister for their "dealing with the situation with republican prisoners."

"We quite clearly lay the blame for this with David Ford and Sue McAllister," the statement read.

After the attack Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said republican paramilitary groups intend to step up their activities in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

However, republican sources say the attempt on the prison officer’s life was not connected to the centenary.

"This is directly related to the ongoing prison dispute - forced strip searches and controlled movement," the source said.

"This has nothing to do with the commemoration of 1916. This is ongoing business.