A HUGE bomb planted close to the Northern Ireland border was intended to inflict "death and serious injury" on civilians and police officers, a security chief said last night.
The device, containing 600lb of fertiliser-based homemade explosives, was defused by army bomb disposal experts outside Forkhill, south Armagh.
Dissident republicans were blamed for the bomb, which had a command wire leading across the border.
Chief inspector Sam Cordner, commander of the Newry and Mourne police, said the bomb was meant to have killed police but would also have destroyed nearby homes and killed residents. He said: "The actions of terrorist criminals in planting this device in the Forkhill area put local people and police officers at significant risk.
"Their actions were reckless and dangerous in the extreme. Their target may have been the police, but they did not care who they killed or injured."
The alarm was raised with a phone call to a local newspaper last week. Inspector Cordner said: "Police officers cordoned off the area and moved people from the danger area. Twenty people were evacuated from six homes on Saturday – some of them were elderly, others families with numerous young children."
In January, a 300lb device was defused in Castlewellan, County Down – thought to be en route to the Ballykinlar army base outside Newcastle – and in May the components for another bomb containing around 100lb of homemade explosives were found near Rosslea, County Fermanagh.
Security minister Paul Goggins said: "It is clear that those who left this bomb – which could have inflicted death and serious injury – have no regard for the people living in the area."
The Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh, Conor Murphy, added: "I would question the motives of those who are putting the local community in such danger. How is this furthering the struggle for Irish freedom?"
Ulster Unionist deputy leader and Stormont member for the area, Danny Kennedy, said the bomb was "a most worrying find and one that I am deeply alarmed and anxious about".
Mr Kennedy added: "The threat posed by dissident republicans is very real. It is one that is constant. This was a viable device. If detonated, we would have had a serious loss of life."
• The Ulster Defence Association and its breakaway faction in south-east Antrim – the last remaining loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland – have pledged to decommission all their weapons within six months, the government announced yesterday.
The Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commandos put all their guns beyond use in June.