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|Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, hosted talks in March to discuss rising violence between Celtic and Rangers football fans [GALLO/GETTY]|
Football tensions in Scotland have escalated after it was revealed that parcel bombs were sent to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two high-profile supporters of the Glasgow club, Scottish police said on Wednesday.
The devices were sent in the weeks following an acrimonious game between Celtic and city rivals Rangers, two clubs with a history of sectarian conflict.
The packages were all intercepted before reaching Lennon, his lawyer Paul McBride and member of the Scottish parliament Trish Godman and did not explode.
While police did not speculate on the motives behind the parcel bombs, sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland and Glasgow are regularly played out between Celtic fans, who are mostly Catholic, and Rangers fans, who are mostly Protestant. Both teams play in the Scottish Premier League.
The first parcel bomb targeting Lennon, a Catholic from Northern Ireland, was found on March 4 and a second was intercepted at a sorting office outside Glasgow on March 26.
Another package destined for Trish Godman was intercepted at her constituency office two days later.
A third package destined for Paul McBride, one of Scotland’s highest profile lawyers who has represented Lennon in disputes with the Scottish Football Association, was intercepted earlier this week.
“Sending these types of packages through the post is a despicable and cowardly act,” Detective Superintendent John Mitchell of Strathclyde Police said.
“I can confirm that they were designed to cause real harm to the person that opened them.”
The acrimony between Celtic and Rangers is long-running and deep-seated.
The sectarian divide mirrors the religious and social hatred historic to Northern Ireland. Celtic’s fans regularly wave Irish flags while Rangers’ supporters show British and Northern Ireland flags on match days.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said the explosives were powerful enough to “maim or even kill” and warned the bombs represented a worrying new development in the football-related violence that has long plagued Glasgow.
“That does take it to a new level and that is why we are treating it with all seriousness,” he told BBC television.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon is no stranger to controversy. He 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.
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.
European football’s governing body UEFA opened a case against Rangers this month for discriminatory sectarian chanting by the club’s fans.
The two clubs, known as the ‘Old Firm’ meet again on Sunday in a potentially decisive Scottish Premier League match.
Rangers are trying to close a four-point gap on the defending champions at the top of the league.
Rangers have played two games more than Celtic but would be in firm control if they win the teams’ seventh meeting this season.