A lawmaker in Northern Ireland said Saturday that a bomb discovered in a van near the Irish border in one of two new security alerts was likely part of a dissident plot to kill police officers.

A white Citroen Berlingo van containing two barrels packed with about 600 pounds (272 kilograms) of explosives was abandoned Thursday on a border road outside Newry, a city in Northern Ireland close to its border with Ireland, police said.

Officers said the vehicle was dealt with by an army bomb disposal team and that in a second incident Friday the military also handled a bomb found under a parked car in the Ballygomartin Road area of north Belfast.

"To put it in perspective, anyone within 50 meters (yards) of this device would have been killed and anyone within 100 meters, seriously injured," District Commander Chief Superintendent Alasdair Robinson said, describing the van laden with explosives near Newry.

"This was a very significant device. If this had exploded it would have caused devastation," he said.

Ulster Unionist legislator Danny Kennedy insisted that the van had likely been armed by Irish Republican Army dissidents, who have repeatedly targeted local police particularly Irish Catholics who have joined the Northern Ireland police force in a bid to stop cross-community support for law and order.

"Clearly this was an attempt to lure a police patrol into that area, with potentially lethal consequences," Kennedy said. "Those responsible were dangerous and dedicated terrorists, who are determined to cause serious harm, injury and death to members of the security forces regardless of the consequences to local communities."

Building Catholic representation in the once Protestant-dominated police force is a central goal of Northern Ireland’s peace process.

In March, two IRA dissidents were convicted of murdering a policeman as he sat in his patrol car in February 2009 the first killing of a police officer in the country since 1998, the year of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace accord. In 2001, a 26-year-old Catholic police recruit, Ronan Kerr, was killed when a booby-trap bomb exploded under his car.

Robinson acknowledged the Newry incident was likely connected to dissident republicans, but insisted that the target and the reason for the device being abandoned were not clear.

In Belfast, Chief Superintendent George Clarke said the incident there on Friday had led about 80 people to be evacuated from their homes.

"The actions of police have undoubtedly thwarted the attempts of criminals to inflict death, injury and misery on the community of north Belfast," Clarke said. "Police are determined to protect communities from these threats."

Keywords: bomb scare

More In: International | News