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N. Ireland police investigate massive bomb

  • Story Highlights
  • Police in Northern Ireland defuse huge bomb planted on country road
  • Bomb was aimed at killing police officers, force says
  • Army experts estimate it contained 270 kilograms of homemade explosives
  • Bomb is part of a recent rise in political violence in Northern Ireland
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(CNN) -- Police in Northern Ireland were investigating Wednesday after "reckless criminal terrorists" planted a 600-pound bomb along a country road.

The bomb was aimed at killing police officers, a spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said Wednesday. No arrests have been made, police said.

An anonymous call September 1 alerted police to an explosive device somewhere in the area of Forkhill, a town in County Armagh, less than 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) from the border with the Republic of Ireland, police said.

The caller was vague about the location, so police issued warning calls to the public while they searched for the bomb, police said.

A second call a few days later allowed police to focus on a specific area of Forkhill, allowing them to find the bomb along a road and dismantle it Tuesday, police said.

Army experts estimate it contained about 270 kilograms (600 pounds) of homemade explosives, police said. That means it was bigger than the bomb that exploded in the Northern Irish town of Omagh in 1998, killing 29 people and wounding more than 300.

"This was a substantial device, so much so that had this device exploded, it would have demolished local housing with fatal consequences," said Chief Inspector Sam Cordner. "Police have had to evacuate six homes and six families for an extended period of time."

A 600-pound bomb would probably be equivalent in size to a cube about two feet square, said explosives expert Clifford Jones of the University of Aberdeen.

A command wire led from the bomb to a firing point across the border, in Ireland, police said.

"The actions of terrorist criminals in planting this device in the Forkhill area put local people and police officers at significant risk," Cordner said. "Their actions were reckless and dangerous in the extreme. Their target may have been the police, but they did not care who they killed or injured."

Republican politicians say whoever is behind the bomb does not have the support of the population.

"The people who are responsible for this and these other types of activities, which put the lives of people in south Armagh, in danger need to explain their motivation to that community," said Sinn Fein lawmaker Conor Murphy, who represents Armagh in the Northern Ireland Assembly. "These people want to drive us into the past, and that's somewhere we don't intend to go."

The bomb is part of a recent rise in political violence in Northern Ireland, in which dissident Republicans are targeting the police and British Army, with the aim of disrupting the peace process, said Brendan O'Duffy, a professor at the University of London who researches the region's conflict.

"Their short-term objective would be to create political problems for the power-sharing government (and) delay or prevent devolution of policing and justice powers," O'Duffy told CNN. "They would like to put pressure on the British government to send more troops into Northern Ireland, because that would be proof that this package (of peace measures) is kind of a continuation of British rule."

Last month in County Armagh, an explosive device was found near a high school, and a week earlier armed and masked dissidents from the Real IRA stopped cars at an illegal checkpoint in the county, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

A year ago, a 100-pound bomb was found in a hedge in another village in south Armagh, the newspaper said.

"Ultimately the dissident Republicans want to use political violence to disrupt this fledgling political process," O'Duffy said. "They don't want to fight for its own sake. They claim to be doctrinaire Republicans who feel that Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA have sold out and are traitors to the cause of the Republic, and so they see this whole package that allows Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom to be a sellout of Republican ideals."

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