A viable 136kg car bomb was discovered close to a school in Northern Ireland, police said on Saturday, in a grim reminder of the increasing threat posed by dissident paramilitaries.
The homemade device was in the back of a black Volkswagen car in the village of Castlewellan in the southeast of the British province.
The device has now been made safe.
A telephone warning claimed the bomb was originally intended for a nearby British army base but had been abandoned.
They callers claimed to be from a dissident republican organization — Catholic paramilitaries opposed to the peace process and wanting Northern Ireland to sever links with the UK and join the Republic of Ireland.
Bomb discoveries in Northern Ireland are now rare compared to the heights of The Troubles, the three decades of sectarian bloodshed in the province.
However, the last 18 months has seen an upsurge in violent activity from republican paramilitaries opposed to the peace process, including more than a dozen unsuccessful murder bids against police officers.
“The people who have carried this out showed a callous disregard for the lives of everyone in our community,” police superintendent Greg Blain said.
“They placed the lives of every man, woman and child in the area at risk and simply have nothing to offer society. Those who operate under various flags of convenience are simply terrorists and criminals ... I would call on all in our community who want to see a happier and more peaceful present and future to give us the information to detect and bring these criminals to justice,” he said.
The three decades of civil unrest in Northern Ireland, in which around 3,000 people were killed, largely ended with the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
The decade since then saw repeated faltering efforts to bring self-rule to Belfast, which led the way to a landmark power-sharing deal last year between majority Protestant parties wanting to keep Northern Ireland linked to Britain, and Catholic parties seeking integration into the Republic of Ireland.
The deadliest attack of The Troubles — the 1998 Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people — was caused by a 227kg car bomb.
Margaret Ritchie, the local Northern Ireland Assembly representative, said: “This was a large device even by the standards of the past but those who planted it should be in absolutely no doubt — we are not going back to the past even if they are locked in it. They need to realize that times have changed, that we have an accountable policing service and we will back it to the hilt against those who would bring danger into our midst in such a reckless way.”