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sectarian attack Criminal gang with links to UVF believed to be behind pipe bomb attack in Antrim

A small but viable device was found attached to an HGV lorry in the Loughguile area of the county last Sunday.

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Police and the lorry at the scene in Loughguile

Police and the lorry at the scene in Loughguile

Police and the lorry at the scene in Loughguile

The criminal gang with links to the UVF is believed to be behind a pipe bomb attack in Co Antrim last week.

A small but viable device was found attached to an HGV lorry in the Loughguile area of the county last Sunday.

The lorry was parked beside a Catholic church, sparking concerns among the community that it was St Patrick's chapel which had been targeted in a sectarian attack.

Though it has not done so publicly, the PSNI is not treating this as an attack on the church but rather an attack on someone who lives locally.

The Sunday World understands detectives have a very definite line of inquiry about who was behind the reckless attack as well as who the target was.

"This was definitely not an attack on the church or indeed Catholics in the area even though this bomb was left here shortly before Sunday morning Mass," said a source.

"The target seems to be in dispute with a gang from Ballymena who have links with the east Antrim UVF."

Police received a report that a device had been left in Tullyview, off Corkey Road, at about 8.50am on Sunday.

It was made safe by ammunition technical officers and removed for examination.

Parish Priest Fr Patrick Mulholland told the Sunday World he had received a call telling him a device had been left on a lorry outside.

"I got the call about the bomb and it was very concerning but if I'm honest I thought it was probably just a hoax," he explained.

"So when we found out it was an actual bomb it was very distressing. To think someone would leave a bomb outside a church in the early hours of Sunday morning when people were due to attend Mass was shocking.

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The lorry on which the bomb was left

The lorry on which the bomb was left

The lorry on which the bomb was left

"I thought, 'Oh no, I thought we'd left those days behind us'.

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"We haven't heard anything from the police to say what it was all about but nobody has said to me that it was a sectarian attack on the church.

"However, we are not overly concerned now and Mass has continued to take place as normal throughout the week."

The Sunday World understands police are looking into the involvement of Ballymena-based UVF men who wanted to send a message to someone living in the area.

And rather than a sectarian threat to the whole community, it's understood there was a very specific target.

But last night the PSNI was not prepared to add any further comments about its investigation, telling us only: "Inquiries are ongoing."

The terrifying bomb incident caused great disruption to the village and Mass was cancelled, while members of the Loughguile Shamrocks hurling team were told to leave their pitch for their own safety.

Other shops and businesses were forced to remain closed for most of the day and residents of around 60 homes were told to stay indoors.

Inspector O'Brien said: "Shortly after 8.50am on Sunday, January 16, police received and responded to a report that a device had been left in the area.

"The object, which was located in the Tullyview area, has been declared as a small, viable pipe bomb-type device and was made safe by ammunition technical officers. It has since been taken away for further forensic examinations.

"Cordons have now been greatly reduced and I am keen to reiterate our gratitude to local people, and all those inconvenienced, for their patience as we work to make the area safe.

"This was a completely reckless act and those responsible have shown a blatant disregard for the lives of others. Their actions are reprehensible and are not supported by the local community.

"It is thanks to the assistance of members of the public and the attending services that no injuries were sustained or damage caused as a result of this.

"At this stage, we believe that the device may have been left sometime between the evening of Saturday, January 15 into the morning of Sunday, January 16."

North Antrim DUP Assembly member Mervyn Storey hit out at those who left the device, describing it as a "reckless and needless action".

"The motive is still unclear as to what or who was the intended target of this attack, so police are being open-minded," he said.

"This is a very rural area, a very quiet part of north Antrim and the incident caused considerable distress and disruption.

"I know Mass was cancelled in the local Roman Catholic Church.

"Police have already confirmed that had this gone off, someone would have been injured or worse."

steven.moore@sundayworld.com

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