A suspected member of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) splinter group was charged Saturday with trying to kill a Northern Ireland prison officer by placing a booby-trap bomb under his vehicle as police warned of rising security risks as Easter approaches.
Dozens of armed riot police were deployed inside Belfast Magistrates Court to control a rowdy crowd supporting 45-year-old Christopher Robinson, who offered no plea to two charges of attempted murder and possession of a homemade bomb.
Robinson was arrested following the March 4 attack on an off-duty prison officer, who was seriously wounded when a bomb exploded beneath his van as he drove away from his Belfast home to go to work. Robinson's supporters whistled, cheered and shouted insults at the judge as police led Robinson away in handcuffs.
A faction labelled the "New IRA" claimed responsibility. In a statement to the BBC in Belfast, the group said it targeted the prison officer because he was training other guards inside Maghaberry Prison, which houses dozens of convicted members of several IRA factions. The judge said Robinson's next court appearance would take place April 1 by video link from that prison west of Belfast.
While IRA members loyal to the Provisional IRA renounced violence and disarmed in 2005, smaller rival factions still mount occasional bomb and gun attacks in hopes of destabilising the British territory of Northern Ireland. Their imprisoned members have mounted years of protests at Maghaberry.
The so-called "New IRA" - a name invented by Irish media to distinguish it from other factions, all of which claim to be the true IRA - claimed responsibility for killing another Maghaberry Prison guard in 2012.
A police commander, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr, said he expects more attacks in the run-up to Easter, the most important date on the IRA calendar. He said IRA splinter groups have several hundred members who often are commanded by Provisional IRA veterans with "significant terrorist experience."
The Irish government is planning large-scale events in Dublin on Easter, March 27, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising against British rule. Most of Ireland won independence six years after that rebellion in Dublin, but Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom.