Police chiefs yesterday warned of the unswerving lethal intent of dissident republicans following a thwarted letter bomb bid aimed at Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
The explosive package addressed to the Conservative MP, which was delivered to the seat of the power-sharing executive at Stormont Castle in Belfast, was the fourth such device intercepted prior to detonation in the region in less than a week.
The latest security alert forced First Minister Peter Robinson and other officials to evacuate the building.
The other bombs, two of which were discovered at Royal Mail sorting offices, were addressed to two senior police officers and an office of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
Sinn Fein last night claimed a hoax device addressed to one of their councillors had also been found at a sorting office.
As Ms Villiers branded the “reckless” actions of the perpetrators, senior Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) commanders warned a committee of MPs at Westminster that dissidents remained firmly wedded to violence.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee: “There does not seem to be any diminution in their intent or any sense of them trying to find some route for dialogue with other parties or the Government.
“They seem entirely wedded to a route of violence.”
Mr Harris expressed concern the extremists could get hold of more explosives and guns or make substantial amounts of money.
“We have concerns about upcoming anniversaries and whether they want to use those for their own purposes in getting publicity,” he said.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott assured the committee members that intensive investigative efforts would go into finding the letter bombers.
The fourth device was discovered at Stormont Castle - where Mr Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are based. As the Assembly is currently in recess over Halloween, Mr McGuinness was not in the property at the time.
Ms Villiers’ base in Belfast is in nearby Stormont House.
However, today she was in London meeting former US diplomat Richard Haass to discuss progress on talks he is chairing with Northern Ireland politicians to address outstanding peace process issues.
After the meeting with the ex-White House envoy, she condemned the latest letter bomb attack.
“These attacks are totally unjustified, they will achieve nothing,” she said.
“They are in defiance of the democratically expressed will of the people of Northern Ireland, indeed the whole of the island of Ireland who voted in such strong numbers for the current political settlement. It is a tragedy for Northern Ireland that there is a small minority that continue to seek to achieve their ends by terrorism and violence but they will not succeed because the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland have chosen the democratic route.”
Ms Villiers added: “It might have had my name on it but the lives they were putting at risk are people who work in sorting offices, in post offices, civil servants - all those lives were put in jeopardy. I think that is disgraceful, I think it is reckless, that is why I condemn it.”
She said the threat level continued to be severe and hailed the efforts of police on both sides of Irish border to thwart the dissidents.
“We will continue to bear down on that threat but there is not doubt that it is real, that there is continued attack planning by these dissident republicans,” she said.
Earlier, Mr Robinson said those responsible for sending the devices had no regard for the lives of postal workers and staff working in offices.
“They will not further any aim or objective by their vile and callous deeds,” he said.
“Northern Ireland will not be dragged back by terrorists who have nothing but misery to offer.”
In the wake of yesterday’s alert, Mr McGuinness tweeted: “Letter bombs, attacks on places of worship, graves & orange halls are the offerings of bitter & twisted little minds & will further nothing.”
On Monday, a letter bomb was delivered to the offices of the PPS in Londonderry.
Last Friday, similar devices were discovered at Royal Mail sorting offices addressed to Mr Baggott and Chief Inspector John Burrows, the police commander in Derry.