Parcel bomb plot poses difficulties for investigators

By Cormac O'Keeffe
Security Correspondent

The Garda investigation into the parcel bombs posted to London will be a “difficult” one, security sources have warned.

Hopes that the stamps on the parcels could help in the process of identifying the possible sender or senders may be short-lived given that the apparent stamps — special St Valentine’s stamps from 2018 — were purchased more than a year ago.

Sources said that even if An Post was able to pinpoint what office the stamps were purchased in, any CCTV footage from then would be “long gone”. The other main avenue of potential evidence will come from a forensic examination of the parcels in a bid to gather DNA or fingerprint samples.

Given most envelopes and stamps have adhesive, the prospect of gathering DNA samples through a person licking the envelope or stamps may be unlikely, sources said.

The gathering of DNA, or indeed fingerprints, through touch, will also be compromised by the multitude of people that could have handled the parcels during collection, transportation, delivery and receipt.

“This will be difficult enough to investigate,” said one security source. “The hope from the stamps would be that you would be able to identify what post office the stamps were bought in. But given that the stamps are over a year old, even if you did identify the post office, the CCTV is long gone.”

The source added:

This was obviously pretty well planned, with planning going on a long time.

One of the key inquiries underway within the Garda Special Detective Unit, operating with the assistance of the Garda Security and Intelligence Section, is its liaison with An Post.

The source said that although progress through handwriting analysis was “remote”, it could help identify if one or more people wrote the addresses on the packages.

On what the evidence told investigators, the source said: “This was not a random attack. It was targeted at transport hubs. The primary cause was not to cause injury, though they might not have been too worried about that, but to cause public panic and worry, and for publicity, and with Brexit down the road it could have been to make people feel uneasy about the whole situation.”

The source said that while Security and Intelligence and the SDU will keep an open mind, the main suspicion would centre on dissident republicans, such as the New IRA.

“They would be an organisation of interest and there is a clear suspicion that this is linked to Brexit,” the source said. “It is hard to see what other motive there would be.”

There has been a long history of the Provisional IRA, the Real IRA and more recently the New IRA using fire bombs and letter bombs.

In 2014, the New IRA sent parcel bombs to eight British military offices and barracks, some of which were posted in the Republic.

Ten years previously, the Real IRA placed similar devices in 14 shops and supermarkets across six towns in the North in one month.

Sources point out that the perpetrator could be a lone individual, within the republican movement, who carried out the attacks, without the knowledge of any particular organisation.

The New IRA has been linked to the car bomb found outside Derry courthouse last January.

The New IRA is thought to have 40-50 active members in the South, though sources said you could “cut that a bit” in terms of who was willing to transport or use bombs.

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