GARDAI have foiled a plot by dissident terrorists to murder a British soldier as he spent the Christmas season here with his family.
The soldier was due to return this week to his family in Limerick city.
However, he has now opted to remain in the UK after gardai became aware of the planned murder bid by members of the Continuity IRA in west Dublin and Limerick.
The terrorists were understood to have already sourced a firearm to carry out the shooting of the soldier and identified when and where he was to be murdered.
A member of the dissident republican group had also been detailed to target the soldier, who is in his 20s, with instructions to kill him.
The Continuity IRA intended to strike as the soldier was attending a function in the city shortly before he returned to his army regiment.
They learnt of his holiday plans when one of the thugs befriended the soldier on Facebook and monitored his posts over the past few months.
When gardai became aware of the plot, they contacted the soldier and his family and it was decided to postpone the trip. Gardai had also learnt of a previous threat in August. The target did not come home on that occasion.
The murder plot was conceived by a local faction of the Continuity IRA with the co-operation of other terrorists based in west Dublin.
This group was regarded as "tiny" in terms of numbers in the past but its ranks had been swollen by new recruits in the past few months.
During the recent nationwide crackdown against dissident republicans in the wake of the paramilitary display at the funeral of northside Dublin Real IRA faction leader Alan Ryan, gardai made their move against the CIRA faction in Limerick and elsewhere in the south- west.
Detectives arrested 15 suspects and were concerned to find that several had not come to their notice previously and were regarded in anti-terrorist circles as 'lily whites'.
None of the suspects has been charged but since then gardai have been building up a substantial dossier on the faction and files are expected to be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions in connection with a number of crimes, including membership of an illegal organisation.
The Continuity group has been split by in-fighting and one faction, led by a man known to be in control of the terrorists in the Limerick region, is in confrontation with supporters of a dissident who was once regarded as the groups leader in the Republic.
The rift is believed to have stemmed from a row over money missing from an account controlled by the terrorists.
The Limerick boss is believed to have suffered from credibility problems within the overall organisation in the past, largely because of his associates' heavy involvement in drug trafficking and criminality and his dependence on the support he regularly received through his links with an active Continuity unit based in west Dublin.
His group is known to have had regular access to weapons in the past and has supplied guns to the west Dublin unit in return for their support.
Senior gardai believe the plot to murder the young soldier was intended to "solve" his credibility problems and win him respect from more senior figures in the organisation.
Gardai are satisfied that the intelligence they gleaned in the past couple of months not only prevented the plot from being executed but also blocked what would have been a major impetus to all dissident groups, which are trying to re-organise and step up their terror campaign, particularly in Northern Ireland.
The formation of a new terrorist alliance, comprised of members of Alan Ryan's former faction, the Real IRA group in Derry, the Republican Action Against Drugs group in Derry, and non-aligned activists from east Tyrone and Belfast, is regarded by police on both sides of the Border as a serious new threat.
This alliance has already been blamed for the murder of Northern prison officer David Black as he drove to work at Maghaberry jail on November 1.
And the Continuity IRA is thought to be looking for a security "spectacular" to put them back into the headlines.
"The murder of a member of the British Army in the Republican would have given them the publicity they craved," a senior garda said last night.