7 February 2002 Edition
Bombs, threats and beatings
BY LAURA FRIEL
Loyalist violence continued this week with a series of attacks, including a booby trap car bomb, a number of serious assaults and renewed threats against Catholic workers and members of the GAA.
A device similar to that used to kill Lurgan defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson was discovered under the car of a Tyrone republican last Thursday. The owner of the vehicle, a Catholic woman who is expecting her first child next month, noticed a device strapped under the car.
The woman fled to her sister's home, where she alerted a local priest. The device, constructed in a plastic lunch box, was packed with explosives.
The woman, in her early 30s, and her husband had both driven the car the previous day. The vehicle was subsequently parked outside the couple's home in the Greystone area near Dungannon, County Tyrone.
The night before the device was discovered, the couple had been disturbed by their dog barking outside. When they looked out they saw the dog backing off as if someone was there in the darkness. Footsteps were heard running down the lane away from the house. At the bottom of the lane the couple saw two British Army jeeps of a UDR/RIR patrol.
Local Sinn Féin Assembly member Michelle Gildernew said the attack bore all the hallmarks of Crown forces collusion. Describing the device as 'sophisticated', Gildernew said the bomb was similar to the type used to assassinate solicitor Rosemary Nelson in Lurgan. It is believed that the device had a mercury tilt switch. The woman, who has been described as 'deeply upset', feels unable to return home and is staying with relatives.
"The sophistication of this device, the area in which it was planted and Crown forces activity prior to the attack, has convinced local people that this murder attempt falls in line with others in which there has been British collusion with loyalist death squads," said Gildernew.
Questions have also been raised regarding the response of the RUC/PSNI. "The RUC were alerted at 8pm but it took them over two hours to respond," said Gildernew. "In fact, they only arrived after the incident was reported on the television news." The RUC denied knowledge of any incident to the press, even after interviewing the woman at her sister's home.
Meanwhile, a North Belfast postal worker survived a loyalist murder bid in Ligoniel. The 20-year-old postman was in his car and sitting at the lights at the junction of Ligoniel Road and Crumlin Road.
He noticed two men in front of him signal to one another moments before approaching the stationary car. One of the men pulled a gun from his jacket. Fearing for his life, the postman sped through red traffic lights.
The man is believed to have been a friend of Gavin Brett, a young Protestant shot dead by the UDA last year in the mistaken belief he was a Catholic as he talked to friends outside a GAA club.
The murder bid has heightened fears among fellow Catholic postal workers at the Tomb Street depot, where the employee was stationed. The targeted man has subsequently moved to another department.
The attack took place just weeks after Longlands postal worker Daniel McColgan was shot dead as he arrived for work at Rathcoole. After the McColgan killing postal workers took industrial action while the loyalist threat against Catholic workers led to mass protest rallies throughout the North.
Amidst the public outcry following McColgan's killing the UDA withdrew the threat against Catholic postal workers, teachers and staff working in Catholic schools only to reactivate the threat once the media spotlight had been removed.
In Derry, postal workers renewed their industrial action on Monday following loyalist threats against a Catholic postal worker in the city. A caller to the Samaritans' office in Derry on Sunday night had named an individual postal worker who had been carrying out deliveries in the Waterside area. The workers went back to their jobs on Tuesday, despite continuing concerns, after the UDA issued a statement denying the threat.
Catholic construction workers have also been targeted in Derry. Recently, a 35-year-old labourer narrowly escaped injury when a masked loyalist gunman opened fire as he sat in the cab of a lorry at a building site in the Waterside.
Last week, a group calling itself the Loyalist Reaction Force reiterated threats against Catholic teachers in North Belfast. The same group issued threats against four named Sinn Féin members. Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly dismissed the LRF as "another flag of convenience for the UDA, under which they are carrying out their anti-Catholic violence".
Meanwhile, loyalists are threatening to resume the blockade of Holy Cross Primary School if the Department of Regional Development doesn't meet their demands. PUP member Billy Hutchinson said Glenbryn residents were "becoming frustrated" at a lack of progress.
Hoax bombs and assaults
In Fermanagh, a hoax bomb alert disrupted one of the largest GAA functions to be held in the county. 750 guests and staff were evacuated from a 75th Anniversary celebration of Enniskillen Gaels GFC at the Manor House hotel following two telephone bomb warnings. The event was cancelled after four suspicious devices were discovered. Controlled explosions were carried out but the devices were subsequently declared to be 'elaborate hoaxes'.
Hours earlier, a loyalist group based in South Derry and calling itself the Ulster Protestant Coalition announced its intention to wage an anti-GAA campaign. The group, linked to the PUP, described the GAA as anti-British and anti-Protestant.
A spokesperson said the group was preparing to put up hundreds of anti-GAA posters in villages and towns. The campaign would be carried out across the North and would be targeting business sponsors of the sporting clubs.
In Belfast, Catholic University students were added to the list of people being targeted by the UDA. Two students living in accommodation in the loyalist Village area of South Belfast fled after they were threatened by the UDA.
When the two Queen's University students, from Fermanagh and Armagh, returned to collect their belongings they were savagely beaten by a six-man gang armed with sledgehammers and clubs. The students, aged 20 and 21, sustained serious injuries, including fractured limbs, skull, and a broken jaw as well as numerous cuts and abrasions. Other Catholic students living in the area have fled following threats from the UDA.
In North Belfast, a 15-year-old Catholic boy was attacked by a loyalist mob as he and two of his school friends walked home through the loyalist Cave Hill area. Joseph McLaughlin and his companions were at the junction of Westland and Cavehill Roads when three men travelling in a car jumped out and ran towards the boys. "I fell and they started punching and kicking me in the face and head," said Joseph. The teenager was kicked unconscious before the gang was disturbed and fled from the scene. Joseph has been told that he may require reconstructive surgery and that the feeling in the right side of his face may never return.
These continuing loyalist attacks took place amid rumours of a new hardline realignment between anti-Agreement loyalist organisations, primarily the UDA and LVF. Leading figures within the UDA were named in a recent newspaper article. The UDA is divided into six 'brigade' areas, each with their own regional commander. The media has named the six as Jackie McDonald of South Belfast, Jim Gray of East Belfast, Mo Courtney of West Belfast and Jim Simpson of North Belfast. John Gregg presides over south east Antrim and Billy McFarland is based in South Derry and North Antrim.
Students attacked by loyalist sledgehammer gang
BY SEÁN MacEACHAIDH
Loyalists wielding sledgehammers and clubs attacked two students from Queen's University, Belfast on Friday 1 February in their digs in the loyalist Village area. The pair had already abandoned their Fortuna Street accommodation, close to the City Hospital, after the UDA issued threats against them. They were set upon when they returned to collect their belongings between 6.30pm and 7pm on Friday.
One student received a fractured skull, two broken arms and a broken jaw
in the assault. The second student has a broken arm and head injuries.
Students living in and around Queen's are fearful that the attack is the beginning of an open season on all non-locals, particularly students, renting private accommodation.
Another Catholic student had already fled his home a couple of streets from Fortuna Street after receiving a threat from the UDA. The threatening letter was left while the students were away on Christmas holidays.
An Phoblacht has learned that other students have fled, leaving their possessions behind them. Many are now saying that they will never return to the area, after more received "get out" letters distributed by the UDA.
Breige Meehan threatened
The RUC/PSNI have told Sinn Féin's Breige Meehan that she is under imminent threat from loyalists.
Ms Meehan's was informed of the loyalist threat to kill her if she goes back to Newtownabbey Council on Monday 4 January.
Meehan was elected as councillor in the Newtownabbey area in last June's council elections, a victory that has incensed loyalist paramilitaries. This isn't the first time she has been threatened. Since last year, the RUC/PSNI have informed Meehan's husband Martin and his son, Martin junior that they are both on 'hit lists'. Last January, the homes of both Martin Meehan junior and his brother were attacked by loyalist gun gangs. Luckily, no one was injured in either attack. An Phoblacht has also been told that four other nationalists living in the Newtownabbey area were warned by the RUC/PSNI that they are under threat from loyalists.
According to Meehan the RUC/PSNI said that a code word had been issued with the threats but they refused to give the her any other details about the threat.
Meanwhile Meehan has told An Phoblacht that the DOE and Translink have agreed to extent the Glengormley bus route along the whole of the Hightown Road.
"That the DOE and Translink have agreed to this is good news for people in Glengormley. It is particularly useful for Catholics living along that road as they are living in fear of loyalist attacks especially at the bottom of the road in Glengormley itself.
"Trevor Lowry and Gavin Brett, who were killed by loyalists in the area last year, were killed on the Hightown Road", said Meehan, "so at least the buses running along the whole road will make it easier for people to avoid the worst part of the road where they are vulnerable".