Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney escorted from speech due to bomb threat

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March 25 (UPI) — Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Friday was escorted from a podium in Belfast due to a security alert that stemmed from a bomb threat.

The threat that led security officials to take Coveney to a secure location originated after the driver of a van was hijacked by armed individuals and ordered to drive to the venue where the minister was speaking.

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A report in The Irish Independent said that an undisclosed number of armed individuals forced the driver to bring them to the venue where Coveney was speaking. There, a “suspicious device” was found in the back of the hijacked van in the parking lot and was being assessed by an army team.

Coveney was addressing a foundation about peace when a security officer interrupted his remarks and whispered to him. Coveney then said: “I’m afraid I have to leave. I hope I’ll be back.”

Later, Coveney tweeted about the incident, saying that he was “saddened and frustrated that someone has been attacked and victimized in this way and my thoughts are with him and his family.” It’s believed he was referring to the driver who was hijacked.

British television network ITV said police cordoned off the site of the speech and urged people to avoid the area.

Nichola Mallon, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly who was attending the event, described the incident as “a serious security threat” and added that “those behind this need to get it, you’ve lost, you won’t hold us back.”

Last April, activists and police clashed in Northern Ireland for seven straight days, with security forces resorting to a water cannon to quell demonstrations.

On March 22, Brandon Lewis, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland announced that the terrorism threat level was being lowered from severe to substantial, the first change in the threat level since 2010.