A new type of pipe bomb has been devised by loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, police revealed tonight.
They hang from keys and explode once a door is opened on the inside.
A major alert was issued after two of the devices were found in undergrowth in Ballymena, Co. Antrim - one of several areas where Catholics have been attacked as part of a developing campaign by loyalists opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.
RUC Inspector Bob Quinn said: ‘‘This is the first time such sophisticated pipe bombs have been found and it is very, very sinister.’’
Police fear many more of the so-called keyhole bombs could be in circulation amid fears of increasing sectarian violence across Northern Ireland.
Details of the new type of device emerged as a leading loyalist paramilitary was questioned about a hoax bomb alert at a Catholic primary school in north Belfast which has been at the centre of bitter clashes on the city’s peaceline.
Gary Smith, 37, a close associate of Ulster Freedom Fighters chief Johnny Adair who was freed from prison early under the terms of the Agreement, was detained by police in Belfast on Monday and sent back to jail over claims he had been orchestrating the violence.
Police and troops will also be on full alert in north and west Belfast on Saturday for a big loyalist band parade. Part of the route is near the flashpoint Springfield Road.
The new type of pipe bombs are one foot in length, filled with gun powder, suspended from a key and rigged to wiring which can be fitted to the side of the door.
Two were discovered in undergrowth at a park between the Harryville-Ballykeel areas in Ballymena.
Police believe they had been left there inside a bag - one was wrapped in a towel - to be collected.
They were discovered by a man who then carried them for half a mile to the gates of the town’s police station. A bomb squad was called in.
Insp Quinn said: ‘‘They are totally indiscriminate and anybody answering a door could be killed, or at the very least maimed. The bombs can also be modified and attached to cars.’’
Smith was taken earlier today from Maghaberry Prison to Gough Barracks in Armagh for questioning about a bomb warning telephoned to a Belfast newsroom about the Holy Cross girls primary school, according to security sources.
The alert, made in the name of the outlawed loyalist Red Hand Defenders, was made on Monday, the same day Smith was returned to prison.
The alert turned out to be a hoax. But trouble around the school has continued and pupils were today again prevented by loyalist protesters from entering the school by the main gate and were forced to get in by a back route.
Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid revoked Smith’s licence and sent him back to prison after receiving an intelligence file allegedly linking him with the recent sectarian violence and the UFF.
Johnny Adair was sent back to prison by the previous Ulster Secretary last August at the height of the loyalist feud in Belfast’s Shankill Road area which claimed several lives.
While loyalists warned Smith’s return would spark outrage, Dr Reid defended his decision.
He said on Monday: ‘‘No-one is above the law. No-one is untouchable. No-one will be allowed to stir up sectarian hatred, to attack their neighbours or police officers.
‘‘The people of Northern Ireland will not stand for it and neither will I. Northern Ireland is moving on. Those individuals who cannot move with it and leave their criminality behind will be dealt with by the full force of the law.’’