Irish police intercept bomb planted in van

Saturday, April 27, 2002

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Police intercepted a bomb planted in a van on Friday and Protestant politicians warned that Northern Ireland's coalition government could collapse from wider allegations of Irish Republican Army violence.

Police said IRA dissidents were trying to drive a large gasoline bomb out of Catholic west Belfast, an IRA power base. Two men loaded the bomb into a van and ordered the driver at gunpoint to head downtown, but the gunmen fled when they encountered a police checkpoint.

"This device could have caused a horrible fireball in the city center," said chief inspector Peter Farrar.

Farrar declined to comment on speculation the police mounted the roadblock because of an intelligence tip-off, either from surveillance or a police agent.

The thwarted attack snarled Belfast traffic for hours and further raised tensions in Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration, which includes British Protestants, moderate Irish Catholics and the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party. Their 2 1/2-year-old coalition is the central accomplishment of the 1998 peace accord for this British territory.

First Minister David Trimble warned Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness their coalition risked collapse unless the IRA demonstrated it was disbanding.

Trimble, who also leads the largest Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, said widespread allegations of continued IRA involvement in planning, training and attacks were "rapidly draining away the credibility of this administration."

Speaking separately after their 40-minute meeting, Adams said his Catholic supporters were bewildered by renewed Ulster Unionist threats to pull the plug on power-sharing.

IRA assurances

Adams said the IRA was sticking to its cease-fire and was committed to gradual disarmament. He again rejected accusations that the outlawed group had stolen top-secret records last month from a Belfast police station, compiled new intelligence on potential targets in England, spent years training rebels in Colombia, or killed a taxi driver and a drug dealer in recent weeks.

Adams, who refused to testify Wednesday to a U.S. congressional committee probing links between the IRA and Colombian rebels, insisted that "Sinn Fein has not been involved in any of these alleged incidents."

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