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The BBC's Denis Murray
"Major bombing has been prevented"
 real 28k

Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 16:10 GMT
Explosives find linked to Real IRA
Bags of explosive
500lbs of explosive was intercepted near Belfast
A large haul of explosive discovered by police in Northern Ireland has been linked to dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

Security forces are understood to suspect the so-called Real IRA of being behind the transportation of the explosive towards Belfast.
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Three men are being questioned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary after officers intercepted the 500lbs of explosive on Wednesday night.

It is understood one of the men in custody is an ex-prisoner who was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The homemade explosive was packed into one of two cars which were stopped on the A1 near Hillsborough, just eight miles from Belfast.

The apparent involvement of the Real IRA raises questions about the ceasefire announced by the terrorist group, which was responsible for the Omagh bombing in August 1998.

Chief inspector Ken Henning
Chief inspector Ken Henning: Explosive hightly dangerous
The explosive was contained in bags and, although it was not prepared as a primed bomb, it is believed the intention was to use it in an attack very soon.

The explosive and other items were taken away for examination and several houses in west Belfast were searched in a follow-up operation.

It is understood no further arrests were made during these searches.

Speaking on Thursday morning, RUC chief inspector Ken Henning said the explosives had constituted a considerable threat to the public.

"To transport that amount of explosive in a vehicle on a public road, in a public place, is highly dangerous," he said.

Secretary of State Peter Mandelson commended the RUC for intercepting the explosive haul.

He said the police had prevented what could have been an appalling outrage and it showed the need to maintain effective security levels.

Undercover operation

Wednesday night's seizure is not believed to have been a chance find but part of an undercover surveillance operation.

It is thought likely that RUC officers had been trailing the two cars after receiving information that some sort of terrorist operation was being mounted.

In recent weeks there has been a build up in the activities of republican dissidents.

There was a bomb attack at a hotel in Irvinestown, County Fermanagh, and other incidents at or near security bases in Ballykelly, County Londonderry, and Dungannon, County Tyrone.

Another dissident group, the Continuity IRA, admitted being behind the hotel explosion but denied involvement in the other incidents.

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01 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Dissidents claim army attack
04 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Concern over dissident threat
29 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
Ahern: Dissidents threaten peace
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