The revelation that last week’s ‘dissident’ republican attack on police officers in Fermanagh involved the plastic explosive, semtex, certainly alarmed some people in Northern Ireland. To date, dissident attacks have largely been ambushes involved guns and a few bombs – such as the one under a police officer’s car in Co. Tyrone several months ago. This was, however, the first time that there has been official recognition that commercial explosives are in the hands of ‘dissidents’.
Hundreds of tonnes of semtex were exported to Libya between 1975 and 1981 by the manufacturers in what is now the Czech Republic. Some of this ended up in the hands of groups such as the Provisional IRA during the mid and late 1980s. The explosive has a shelf life of about 20 years so the important question is whether this is an old or new product – the police appear to believe it is old. That begs the question – given that PIRA has decommissioned – how did it come into the ‘dissidents’ possession?