Two Arrested In Northern Ireland Bomb Plot

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

London ( - Two men were arrested Monday after the discovery of a massive terrorist bomb near a bridge in the Northern Ireland city of Londonderry.

Police first spotted a suspicious van on Sunday morning on a bridge over the Foyle River in Londonderry, the province's second-largest city after Belfast. The vehicle was later found abandoned nearby with the bomb inside.

Authorities were able to defuse the 1,200-pound bomb in a controlled explosion.

The device was more than twice as large as the 1998 Omagh bomb, which killed 29 people in the worst-ever terror attack in the United Kingdom.

A police spokesman speaking by phone from Londonderry on Monday, said that two men, aged 33 and 24, had been arrested and were being questioned. Police weren't releasing any further details about the men or the circumstances surrounding the arrests.

The spokesman said dissident republican groups opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process were suspected of being behind the bomb.

Several such groups broke away from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) over the group's conditional support for the peace process. One, the Real IRA, was the group behind the Omagh attack.

Earlier, Chief Inspector George Brien of the Police Service of Northern Ireland said the bomb found in Londonderry had "all the hallmarks of a dissident republican device."

"It was clearly designed to cause immense damage," he told reporters.

"We don't know yet what the target was. There are a number of possible targets in the city and the wider area but it is quite clear it was intended for an imminent attack," he said.

Paul Murphy, Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, praised the police and said officers "almost certainly helped to prevent very significant loss of life."

The discovery of the bomb came after police in the Irish Republic found 500 pounds of explosives near the Northern Ireland border on Saturday.

Mainstream politicians on both sides of the republican-unionist divide condemned the plot.

On Monday evening, leaders of the pro-British Ulster Unionist Party are scheduled to meet to discuss that group's participation in the province's power sharing agreement. Power sharing through local government institutions began under the 1998 Good Friday agreement but is currently on hold over allegations of IRA spying.

A spokesman for the UUP said the bomb was timed to "cause embarrassment" to party leader David Trimble.

"In fact the terrorists are just underlining that he is a serious and very credible unionist figure and a threat to them," the spokesman said.

That view was backed up by Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, the Provisional IRA's political wing,.

"It's an attempt to sow as much confusion as possible within unionism," McGuinness told the BBC.

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