IRA dissidents toss dud grenade at NIreland police

AP News
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Posted: May 10, 2011 9:20 AM
IRA dissidents toss dud grenade at NIreland police

Two Northern Ireland boys were lucky to escape with their lives after a grenade thrown at a police patrol failed to detonate, a police commander said Tuesday.

Nobody was hurt when the military-grade device was thrown Monday night at officers investigating reports of a bomb in a hard-line Irish nationalist district of Londonderry.

The city's police commander, Chief Superintendent Stephen Martin, said Irish Republican Army dissidents lured his officers into the Catholic district by making a false bomb warning.

He said one policeman was talking to two boys aged under 10 on their bicycles when the grenade "fell at his feet." He said three other police officers were nearby.

"If that had exploded ... it is highly probable that I would be talking today about fatal injuries to both a police officer and to two young boys," Martin said.

Police have been on alert for likely attacks by IRA splinter groups because of Thursday's elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and several days of ballot counting afterward.

Dissidents living in Catholic areas typically attack during elections to show their opposition to Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant government and wider peacemaking efforts. They killed a Catholic policeman, 25-year-old Ronan Kerr, with a booby-trap bomb under his car April 2 at the start of the election campaign. He was the first officer killed since 2009.

Results from the assembly election delivered a resounding endorsement for Northern Ireland's current coalition led by the Protestants of the Democratic Unionists and the Catholics of Sinn Fein. The Democratic Unionists won 38 of the assembly's 108 seats, two more than in 2007, while Sinn Fein won 29, one more.

First Minister Peter Robinson, the Democratic Unionist leader, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander and Sinn Fein's deputy leader, planned to meet later Tuesday to negotiate plans for a new cross-community administration. It is expected to include at least one post each for Northern Ireland's other three political parties and could be appointed by the full 108-member assembly as early as Thursday.

Ballot-counting, meanwhile, continued Tuesday to determine who won seats on Northern Ireland's 26 councils. The Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein were the big winners on those local authorities too.

A key goal of Northern Ireland power-sharing is to build Catholic support for the traditionally Protestant police. A decade of police reform has already transformed the force into 30 percent Catholic, and Sinn Fein _ long supportive of IRA attacks on the police _ has officially supported law and order in Northern Ireland since 2007.

But the dissidents reject Sinn Fein's decision to help govern Northern Ireland and seek to undermine the IRA's 2005 moves to renounce violence and disarm. They have made attacks on police operating or living in Catholic areas a top priority.

Londonderry politician Mark Durkan said the dissidents' threats were making it hard for police to do their jobs in the toughest Catholic areas of the city. He said they had to go carefully when responding to reports of crimes for fear of walking into an ambush. He said if locals wanted better law enforcement, they must help police identify and imprison the dissidents living in their midst.

Police said they made no arrests following Monday's attack but would seek forensic evidence from the intact grenade. They declined to specify the manufacturer or origin of the weapon.