BANGOR, Northern Ireland, AFP
Four people were injured Monday, one seriously, when a bomb exploded under a van in Bangor, east of Belfast, in an attack blamed on feuding between rival Protestant militias.
Although police refused to speculate on the motive behind the blast in the seaside town, it was immediately linked by local politicians to paramilitary in-fighting.
It followed an explosion overnight in Belfast blamed on the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), which is battling the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) for ascendancy in the die-hard loyalist movement.
Three people have been killed over the last two months in vicious fighting between the UDA and UVF in Protestant quarters in Belfast.
The militias, which are supposed to be maintaining a ceasefire, repeatedly accuse each other of involvement in the drugs trade.
Police said three men were inside the van when the device went off. Damage to the van and surrounding area were minimal, they added.
The driver was believed to be seriously injured. He was found lying in the street, bleeding badly and calling for help.
The man, in his 40s and from east Belfast, had lived in England for several years before returning to set up a business. According to informed sources, he is a loyalist former prisoner linked to the UVF.
The mayor of North Down, Alan Chambers, said police had told him the blast was caused by a device which only partially exploded.
“My understanding is that the device was placed under the driver’s side of the vehicle,” he added.
The explosion followed an attack overnight that heavily damaged the offices of Loyalist Prisoners’ Aid, an organization linked to the UDA.
John White, a spokesman for the Ulster Democratic Party, the political wing of the UDA, blamed that incident on the UVF.
Meanwhile David Ervine, of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), the UVF’s political wing, said the driver hurt in the Bangor attack had been in “serious threat” of losing his life for “standing up to drug dealers.”
He said the man, a friend of his and head of security at a local nightclub, had suffered serious leg injuries but they were not life-threatening.
He denied the Bangor blast was linked to the feuding in Belfast, saying the driver had been threatened by drugs dealers from another militia known as the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) — although it also has been linked in the past to the UDA.
Peter Weir, a local Protestant politician who represents Bangor, said the attacks were likely to be linked.
“It would appear as I understand it from the lack of collateral damage that either the bomb was meant as a ‘frightener’ or did not go off properly,” Weir said.
“I presume the most likely cause will be connected to the loyalist feud as it’s not an area in which the IRA has been particularly active.”
Other politicians also linked the Bangor attack to incidents in Belfast.
The attacks came several hours after soldiers defused a home-made device in a Protestant area of Belfast during a routine sweep of the area.
A Molotov cocktail was thrown through the window of a deserted house on the same night, but failed to ignite.
On Saturday, presumed UVF members beat up a man with a baseball bat spiked with nails.