A car containing an old-style IRA bomb — thought capable of levelling the centre of a small town — was about to be transported to its intended target site, gardaí believe.
The English-registered vehicle was unlocked when anti-terrorist officers checked it at a hotel in Lucan, west Dublin, on Saturday night.
Senior officers do not know where the intended target was.
While there are reports that it might have been used for a so-called “spectacular” in Dublin while international media was in town for the Giro d’Italia cycle race, gardaí suspect it may have been due to be taken across the border.
A 55-year-old man from Monaghan was arrested in a follow-up operation in a nearby apartment, where detectives found other bomb-making paraphernalia.
Gardaí from the anti-terrorist Special Detective Unit are investigating which of the dissident republican groups the man is connected with.
Sources said the 30kg of fertiliser was contained inside a beer barrel. They said it was a “viable device”, although it did not have a detonator.
“It’s a pretty substantial bomb; it would level the centre of a town,” said one source.
Gardaí received a phone call at around 9.15pm on Saturday about the car at Finnstown Country House Hotel in Lucan.
They located a car, near shrubbery, in the car park.
The English-registered black Volkswagen Passat, with blackened windows, was not locked. Garda sources they suspect it may have been due to be picked up by someone else.
A major operation was put in place and gardaí had to evacuate up to 200 staff and guests from the hotel, including a wedding party.
The army bomb disposal team was alerted. Those evacuated had to wait up to five hours before they were allowed back into the hotel.
Garda sources said it was “highly unusual” for a fertiliser bomb like this to be found. They say it a throwback to the home- made Provisional IRA bombs of the 1980s.
They are investigating the background of the man arrested. Given the type of bomb and age of the suspect, gardaí are investigating any links he might have in the past with the Provisional IRA.
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