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British army experts defused a firebomb in a central Belfast store, police said Thursday, in the latest sign that Irish Republican Army dissidents were targeting the city's bustling pre-Christmas shopping season.

The homemade device was discovered by the staff at the Primark department store Wednesday night as they searched stacks of clothes. Police had just issued a warning to Belfast shops of an increased risk of firebombs being hidden by IRA dissidents.

Five firebombs have been discovered over the past nine days in Belfast shops, but none has caused serious damage. The IRA and its splinter groups traditionally justify the wrecking of businesses as a way of imposing a financial burden on Britain, whose taxpayers cover the rebuilding costs of terrorist damage in Northern Ireland.

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