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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Dissidents blamed for prison blast
Maghaberry Prison
The device was left close to the prison's perimeter fence
Dissident republicans are being blamed by the police for a bomb attack on Northern Ireland's main prison.

The police confirmed that a 150lb home-made device only partially exploded at the main gate of Maghaberry Prison in County Antrim.

The device was left in a white vehicle which pulled up outside the perimeter gate to the prison in County Antrim at about 2230 BST on Sunday.

Two prison officers were in buildings nearby, but no-one was hurt.

Chief superintendent Roy Toner
Roy Toner: "We were on a heightened state of alert"

Chief superintendent Roy Toner said the police contacted the prison authorities as soon as they became aware of what he called "suspicious activity".

"We had no specific intelligence but we were on a heightened state of alert," he said.

"We are keeping a fairly open mind but our initial enquiries are focusing on dissident republican groups."

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson said demilitarisation should be postponed until "rogue paramilitaries" were dealt with.

The Lagan Valley MP said those responsible represented a "further threat to the peace process".

"It seems it may have been the work of dissident republicans," he said.

Abandoned

"It also demonstrates why the government needs to maintain a high level of security.

"Any thought they might have had for further reductions in security should now be set aside."

Jeffrey Donaldson: Ulster Unionist Party MP
Jeffrey Donaldson: Blamed dissident republicans for the attack

The dissident groups are opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

They have been blamed for a series of bomb attacks in the province in recent weeks.

The police are looking for at least two men seen abandoning the vehicle containing the device.

Witnesses saw the white 4x4 and another vehicle approach the prison entrance and watched as the driver of the jeep got out and into the second vehicle, before it sped away.

The men ran from the Mitsbuishi vehicle, which had been stolen in Dublin earlier this month and fitted with false plates, to a waiting car.

Shortly afterwards, the device inside the vehicle exploded.


Fortunately no staff were injured and that is the most important thing

Finlay Spratt
Prison Officers' Association

It is understood prison officers inside the complex were given approximately two minutes' advance warning.

Finlay Spratt of the Prison Officers' Association said the attack was designed to intimidate staff and police clearly had intelligence that it was going to happen.

"They got about a two minute warning and that allowed them time to evacuate the members of staff who were at that location," he said.

"Fortunately no staff were injured and that is the most important thing."

An army bomb disposal team spent several hours examining the scene before taking the jeep away for further forensic examination.

The attack comes less than two weeks after a device detonated outside the police training centre at Garnerville in east Belfast.

Meanwhile, there is a security alert on the railway line between Lurgan and Moira.

The line has been closed after a suspicious object was left near Lake St in Lurgan.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Shane Glynn reports from Maghaberry:
"The prison was sealed off, as forensic experts collected every minute piece of debris"
See also:

29 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Jeep explodes outside prison
17 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Blast at police training college
08 Feb 02 | Northern Ireland
Army base blast condemned
10 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Prison plans 'still doing time'
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