Diversionary Bomb Threats


This report from Patrick Kane examines a diversionary bomb threat in Omagh, Northern Ireland.

Whenever a bomb threat is received, it must be taken seriously. While this is common knowledge and may seem obvious, what is not always as obvious, is the hidden danger which may be lurking behind the bomb threat.

While it’s true that approximately 98% of bomb threats are hoaxes, it is very important to take every threat seriously. Sometimes the threat is real, and sometimes the bomb threat is simply a diversion or a redirection for a more sinister act.

The latter was the case on August 15, 1998, in the town of Omagh, in Northern Ireland. It was the 29th anniversary of the deployment of British troops to Northern Ireland. Omagh is a small town of 20,000, west of Belfast, with a mixed population of Catholics and Protestants.

On Saturday, August 15, the shopping area of Market Street and Dublin Road was crowded with people patronizing shops and running errands. A telephone bomb threat was phoned into the BBC office in Belfast, indicating that a bomb had been placed in the vicinity of the courthouse. The caller used recognized IRA code words when making the threat. Notified of the threat, the police began to clear the area around the courthouse, directing shoppers away from the perceived threat. Twenty minutes after the warning was received, a powerful car bomb, estimated to weigh about 500 pounds, exploded. The bomb did not explode at the courthouse, but rather in the area to which the people were being evacuated.

The bomb killed twenty eight people, and injured over 200, some, very seriously. An eighteen month old baby was killed, and a pregnant woman had both of her legs blown off.

Suspicions quickly fell on the Irish Republican Army splinter group called the Real IRA. The Real IRA is led by a former quartermaster in the provisional IRA who broke with the leadership over support for the peace process. While the Real IRA is believed to be small, many of their members were formerly with the engineering department of the IRA. This engineering department is the section that makes bombs for terrorist attacks.

There are several elements of the Omagh bombing which should be of interest to security practitioners. Principally of importance, is the clever way which The police were tricked into evacuating the shoppers directly into the kill zone. The bomb threat was placed with the deliberate intention of drawing more people into the blast area. Additionally, the attacked occurred on a date which had significance for the terrorist group.

Just as security practitioners must be alert for secondary devices when dealing with bomb incidents or potential incidents, likewise, they must be aware of false of misleading threats which may draw them into a trap and inflict great casualties.

The following must be taken into consideration:

1) What considerations should be taken into account in view of the Omagh bombing, when planning evacuation protocol, evacuation routes, and rally points?

2) How can security personnel better prepare to counter a deception operation like Omagh?

3) How can security personnel respond prudently to a bomb threat, without creating a situation in which evacuees are led into a kill zone?

4) What role does evacuation route reconnaissance and rally point inspection play when evacuating in response to a bomb threat?


Patrick Kane, CPP, is a security services manager in New York City, with nine years experience in implementing, managing, and supervising security programs and operations. Patrick is a former US Marine Corps officer, an associate member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, and a contributing trainer to Informed Source. Patrick’s book "Practical Security Training" can be found via www.bh.com


This article is reprinted with permission from Informed Source Newsletter at www.profiles-threat.com.

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