Bombs sent to Celtic soccer club manager and fans
* Four parcel bombs could have caused serious harm
* Well-known Celtic fans targeted
* Latest episode in long-running sectarian rivalry
By Michael Holden
LONDON, April 20 (Reuters) - Parcel bombs that could have caused "real harm" were sent to Neil Lennon, the manager of Scottish soccer club Celtic, and two of the Glasgow team's high-profile supporters, police confirmed on Wednesday.
Politicians said the attempted bombings showed action was needed to deal with religious bigotry and sectarian violence between some fans of the club and its city rivals Rangers, which has flared anew in recent months.
Lennon, a Northern Irish Catholic, who has been the subject of several threats and physical abuse in the past, has himself been blamed for stoking the tensions, along with senior figures at Rangers.
"Sending these types of packages through the post is a despicable and cowardly act," Detective Superintendent John Mitchell of Strathclyde Police told reporters.
"I can confirm that they were designed to cause real harm to the person that opened them."
While commentators have suggested an individual was probably to blame, police have not yet ruled out the involvement of a guerrilla group. Dissidents opposed to the Irish peace process have stepped up activities in recent weeks.
The acrimony between Celtic, which has a predominantly Catholic fan base and Rangers, whose supporters are mainly Protestant, is long-running and deep-seated.
The sectarian divide echoes the religious and social hatred that has plagued Northern Ireland; Celtic's fans regularly wave Irish flags while Rangers' supporters brandish British and Northern Ireland flags on match days.
The two clubs, known as the "Old Firm" meet again on Sunday in a potentially decisive Scottish Premier League match.
Lennon withdrew from the Northern Ireland team when a player in 2002 after a death threat which media speculated had come from Protestant paramilitaries in the province.
In January, packages, posted in Northern Ireland, containing bullets were sent to Lennon and a Celtic player.
Police said the first suspect parcel bomb, addressed to Lennon, was intercepted by Royal Mail staff on March 4.
Further packages were sent to the Celtic manager, to the office of former deputy presiding officer of the Scottish parliament Trish Godman and to Lennon's lawyer Paul McBride, with the most recent intercepted by mail staff on April 15.
The bombs were initially thought to be hoaxes but police said forensic tests had now shown they were viable. Detectives declined to give details but Sky News reported the devices were crude, liquid-based nail bombs.
The incident comes amid growing concern about the behaviour of clubs' players, coaches and fans. European soccer's governing body UEFA opened a case against Rangers this month for discriminatory sectarian chanting by the club's fans.
Last month, Lennon and Rangers assistant coach Ally McCoist were handed touchline bans after an ugly clash at the end of a derby between the two sides, when three players were sent off. There were also 34 arrests at the game.
"We've got to galvanise ourselves as a community and to have a real determination to eradicate sectarian behaviour from Scottish society and to stop some lunatic besmirching our wonderful game of football," Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond told Sky News. (Editing by Keith Weir)
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