Londonderry police seize bombs, arrest IRA suspect

Residents of a Londonderry street voiced their anger Tuesday at Irish Republican Army die-hards after police seized at least two bombs in an apartment in the Northern Ireland city.

Officers arrested a 30-year-old local man on suspicion of involvement with the bomb cache on Maureen Avenue near the city center. They declined to say if he was a resident of the four-story apartment block.

Several families, including retired couples and young families, were evacuated overnight and slept in a local gym until Tuesday's all-clear by British Army bomb disposal experts. Residents denounced those responsible for storing bombs in a densely populated civilian area.

"Whoever left it there, would they have left it beside their own children?" said Paddy McDaid, who feared that his 9-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter could have been wounded or killed by any premature explosion. The bombs were found in an apartment four doors away from his own, with the building's main gas pipe running in between.

"I feel a wee bit over-anxious that this was happening right beside me," McDaid said. "If it had've exploded ... it could have been a catastrophe."

Gerry Murray, a 78-year-old disabled retiree who was evacuated with his wife, said the various IRA splinter gangs deserved no support from the Irish nationalist majority in the city.

"I'm angry and I think a lot of other people will be angry too," he said.

Several IRA splinter groups active in Irish Catholic parts of the city keep trying to bomb businesses and attack police in defiance of the 2005 decision of the major faction, the Provisional IRA, to renounce violence and surrender weapons. One group called Republican Action Against Drugs, whom police say is run by two former Provisionals, specializes in shooting Catholic men and teens accused of involvement in Londonderry drug dealing.

The city's police commander, Chief Inspector Garry Eaton, declined to speculate on the bombers' likely target, but he said their choice of location to store bombs demonstrated "a callous and outrageous disregard for the safety of the community. We're lucky this morning that we're not dealing with serious injuries or deaths."

No group claimed responsibility for the bombs. Typically the various factions — including the Continuity IRA, Real IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann, Gaelic for "warriors of Ireland" — claim responsibility only when their bombs hit their target.

Also Tuesday, four suspected members of the Real IRA were denied bail at a court appearance three days after they were charged with taking part in a March firearms camp at which around 200 rounds were fired from a rifle in secluded woods.

Two of those charged — Sharon Rafferty, 37, and former Provisional IRA member Sean Kelly, 46 — also have been charged with "directing terrorism" after police say they audiotaped the two discussing how best to raise funds, procure weapons and shoot police.

Sinn Fein, the political party that grew out of the Provisional IRA and today represents most of Northern Ireland's Irish nationalists in a coalition government with the British Protestant majority, denounced the Londonderry bombers as unhinged from reality.

"It's absolutely ridiculous that in this day and age people have to put up with the stress and upset this has caused," said Mickey Cooper, a Londonderry city councilman for Sinn Fein, after he visited the evacuees at the gym. "There is no justification for these activities in the political climate in which we now live."