Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Thursday, 17 September 2009 13:57 UK

Dissident mortar bomb gang jailed

The mortar was found near the Cornakinnegar Road in County Armagh
The mortar was found near the Cornakinnegar Road in County Armagh

Three men involved in a plot to kill police officers with a mortar bomb in Lurgan, County Armagh, have each been jailed for 15 years.

A live mortar, complete with launching tube, was found near the Cornakinnegar Road on 5 April 2007.

Damien McKenna, 26, Deans Walk, Gary Toman, 24, Drumnahoe Avenue and Sean McConville, 23, Kilwilkie Road, all in Lurgan, pleaded guilty.

The police said they believed the men were members of the Continuity IRA.

The mortar was designed to be fired horizontally into a passing police or Army vehicle.

Earlier court hearings were told that the men were being watched by members of an Army special forces unit in March 2007 - McKenna had been under observation for up to six months.

The unit saw the men behaving suspiciously in a field and they were arrested by police as they drove away.

Semtex

Searches initially failed to uncover the bomb and the gang was released without charge

Those who are seduced by the false glamour of terrorism, perhaps those too young to remember or blinded to its horrific consequences, should not allow themselves to be deluded.
Mr Justice Treacy
Crown Court judge

However, they were re-arrested a week later after police found a mortar tube and warhead containing Semtex plastic explosive about a mile from where the car had been stopped.

Fibre and DNA evidence linked them to the bomb.

Fibres from gloves found in McConville's coat were found on the mortar shell and launch frame while in Toman's case, fibres from a sock linked to him were also uncovered on the mortar launch frame and there was evidence of the explosive compound on a glove in his jacket pocket.

Sentencing them at Belfast Crown Court Mr Justice Treacy said that "on any showing, they were all deeply implicated in the sinister events".

Commenting on the recent "resurgence of extreme violent terrorist activity," the judge said: "Those who are seduced by the false glamour of terrorism, perhaps those too young to remember or blinded to its horrific consequences, should not allow themselves to be deluded.

"Upon conviction they face lengthy deterrent sentences."

Cheers

As the trio were led to the cells, the packed public gallery erupted into cheers and applause with a Tricolour being held aloft.

Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, head of the PSNI's Crime Operations Department said the men had "showed complete disregard for human life."

He said: "Damien McKenna, Gary Toman and Sean McConville's aim was to kill police officers in Lurgan with a live mortar bomb.

"But the stark reality is that had their plan been successful they could have caused death and serious injury, not only to police officers, but to members of the local community."

It's understood the police are still interested in speaking to a fourth man who was originally arrested alongside the three defendants.

In a previous court hearing this man was named as Ryan McKenna, who is a brother of Damien McKenna.

That hearing was also told that another of McKenna's brothers, Daire McKenna, received a custodial sentence in 2007 for explosives offences committed in 2005.



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