BELFAST (Reuters) - Republican militants seriously injured a police officer when they exploded a bomb under his car in Northern Ireland on Friday, police said, in the latest of increasingly frequent attacks in the province.
Police spokesman Derek Williamson said a dissident group was clearly behind the attack that left the 33-year-old police officer in a very serious condition in hospital, but that it was too early to identify the group.
Attacks, often aimed at police officers, have increased since nationalist splinter groups killed two soldiers in March 2009 at an army barracks a few miles from the scene of Friday’s attack in County Antrim, northwest of Belfast, and killed a police officer a day later.
“This was an attempt to murder,” Barry Gilligan, chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, a watchdog whose headquarters were the target of a car bomb in November, said of Friday’s explosion.
Most analysts agree the groups have so far not posed a fundamental threat to a 2007 power-sharing deal run jointly by Sinn Fein, which wants a united Ireland, and pro-British First Minister Peter Robinson’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
But the latest attack will add to the pressure already on the executive over a dispute on the transfer of policing powers from London and recent reports that Robinson’s wife tried to kill herself after having an extramarital affair.
Robinson’s position was also questioned by rival parties on Friday following further reports about his wife’s financial affairs but the DUP leader said he had done nothing wrong and intended to defend his position.
“Those difficulties have become a bit of a distraction,” Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said of Robinson’s family problems, adding that a meeting with the DUP on Thursday about the policing powers again produced no results.
“There is lack of public confidence, the institutions are not delivering. The failure to deliver makes space for the so-called dissidents to try and bring the whole thing down,” Adams added in an interview with Irish national broadcaster RTE.
Northern Irish Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander, joined the first minister and Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen in condemning the attack.
“The man injured today in this attack contributes positively to the community. He is an active member of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) and an Irish speaker. The people who carried out this attack make no contribution,” Sinn Fein’s McGuinness said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the Ulster Defense Association, a pro-British militant group became the last main militant group to say it had scrapped all its weapons in front of independent monitors.
However, armed dissidents remain active, such as nationalist paramilitary organizations the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA which claimed responsibility for the attacks last March that marked a low point since a 1998 peace agreement largely ended three decades of conflict when over 3,600 people were killed.
In one of several attacks in recent months, a car bomb injured a police officer’s partner in October. On one day in November, gunmen ambushed and shot at police and a car bomb partially exploded at the headquarters of the policing board.
Additional reporting and writing by Andras Gergely and Padraic Halpin in Dublin; editing by Philippa Fletcher