UDA violence could signal major escalation
Unionist paramilitaries have been blamed for a wave of bomb
alerts in Belfast following a jail riot and attacks on the
homes of republicans.
Earlier today, British army bomb disposal experts were sent to
examine cars abandoned at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic school on
the Ballysillen Road.
The M1 road between Lisburn and Broadway has been closed due
to a similar alert. There are also alerts at Kennedy Way, at
the junction of the Falls Road and Springfield Road in west
Belfast and in the White Abbey. Many of the alerts involve
abandoned cars with gas cylinders visible inside.
A number of controlled explosions were carried out on a
suspicious car in Belfast overnight. British army technical
officers were called to examine the vehicle on the Ormeau
Road. The incident near Sinn Fein offices was later declared a
Another suspicious vehicle examined in the east of the city
overnight was also declared a hoax.
North Belfast Sinn Fein member Mr Gerry Kelly said the alerts
across Belfast was the paramilitary UDA "flexing their muscles
after the disturbances in Maghaberry on Wednesday night".
"These bomb alerts are part of a well-planned campaign and are
designed to cause maximum disruption.
"The fact is that the UDA cessation has been, in effect, over
for a number of years and that organisation has been involved
in an orchestrated campaign of violence against the wider
Catholic community. It is in this context that we must view
these latest actions," he added.
The alerts, which brought traffic across Belfast to a
standstill, were part of a significant increase in UDA
activity this week which began with serious rioting by UDA
prisoners at Maghaberry jail on Wednesday night.
Eighteen prison warders were reported injured as loyalist
prisoners rioted for 12 hours at Maghaberry jail on Wednesday
night and Thursday morning.
A prison officer's station was torched and gutted, table
tennis tables and snooker tables were broken up and used as
blockades as 35 loyalists rampaged in protest at the failure
of the British government to proceed with moves to segregate
prisoners. A fire was also lit, causing some smoke damage.
Previously announced plans to permanently separate loyalist
and republican prisoners have not been acted upon despite
serious tensions between the groups within the prison.
Two pipe bombs found and defused in north Belfast on Wednesday
night were linked to the prison protest.
Bomb disposal experts were also called to deal with a suspect
device strapped to a grille at the jail, which turned out to
be an elaborate hoax.
Visits to Maghaberry jail were cancelled yesterday as
officials assessed the damage, which amounted to hundreds of
thousands of pounds.
As well as dealing with disorder inside the jail, the homes of
prison officers have been targeted by pipe and petrol bombers.
Meanwhile, The UDA is believed to be using Information held by
police to mount attacks on republican homes.
Houses owned by Sinn Fein Lisburn councillor Paul Butler and
the party's West Belfast Assembly member Fra McCann were hit
by ball bearings in a fresh outbreak of violence against party
Dozens of homes, the majority of which are owned by Sinn Fein
members, have been attacked in the Belfast area in the last
Nobody was hurt when the ball bearings struck bullet-proof
glass although missiles did shatter windows.
The attacks are mainly intended to send the message that the
UDA now has the resources to kill prominent republicans at
Mr Butler said: "Whoever is behind these attacks has accurate
information about the addresses of republicans. The only
agency that has this information is the PSNI.
"However, those behind the attacks need to realise that they
will not succeed in intimidating Sinn Fein elected
representatives from doing their jobs."
The riot and today's wave of bomb alerts came ahead of the
12-month anniversary of a 'ceasefire' declaration last
February. That announcement, one of several similar
declarations in recent years, was largely dismissed by
nationalists as sectarian attacks continued on Catholics.
The UDA has also continued to wage gang warfare in a battle
over the proceeds of crime, and has latterly turned to racist
attacks against ethnic minorities in South Belfast.
Last year's ceasefire was not recognised by the British
government and the group remains an illegal organisation,
which rankles with UDA bosses.
One senior UDA source was reported to have claimed the next
seven days would be crucial as to whether its "ceasefire"
would be extended.