- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND (AP) - The parcel bombs sent to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two prominent supporters of the Glasgow soccer club were live devices that could have caused “real harm,” police said Wednesday.

The devices were sent in the weeks after an ill-tempered match between Celtic and fierce Glasgow rival Rangers, two clubs with a history of sectarian conflict. The packages were all intercepted before reaching their targets and did not explode.

“They were designed to cause real harm to the people who opened them,” said detective chief superintendent John Mitchell of Strathclyde Police. “Sending these packages through the post is a despicable and cowardly act.”

While police didn’t discuss the motive behind the mail bombs, sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland and Glasgow are regularly played out between Celtic fans, who are mostly Catholic, and Rangers fans, who are predominantly Protestant.

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 Celtic-supporting Scottish lawmaker Trish Godman was intercepted at her constituency office two days later. A third package addressed to Paul McBride, a lawyer who has represented Lennon, was intercepted earlier this week.

Stewart Regan, the English chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, said the sport “must not be used as a platform for religious intolerance or hatred.”

“As a relative newcomer to this country, I find this recent situation both depressing and deplorable,” Regan said. “With the support of the police, the Scottish Government and our other league bodies, it is our intention to help rid Scottish football of this unwanted poison which seems to be prevalent in society.”

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond called for a “renewed determination that our beautiful game should not be besmirched” by the latest incidents.

“What is required here is that all people _ particularly those that love the game of football _ unite to condemn such actions and unite to condemn those who abuse football for their pathetic and dangerous prejudices … that belong in a long and distant past,” Salmond told the BBC.

The news comes just days before Rangers hosts Celtic on Sunday in another league game. Rangers are trying to close a four-point gap on the defending champions at the top of the Scottish Premier League. Rangers has played two games more than Celtic but would be in firm control if it wins the teams’ seventh meeting this season.

The parcel bombs are the latest in a series of incidents targeting Lennon and others connected with Celtic.

Packages containing bullets were sent earlier this year to Lennon and to players Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn, who are also from Northern Ireland.

The 39-year-old Lennon has endured threats and abuse during his career _ both as a player and a manager. He quit international soccer in 2002 having made 39 appearances after claiming he had received death threats from a paramilitary group in Northern Ireland.

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