Three dissident republican gangs return to bombing in 'bizarre' bid for supremacy
THREE dissident republican gangs are fighting a deadly battle for supremacy to be recognised as the top terrorist outfit on either side of the Border.
Senior anti-terrorist officers in An Garda Siochana and PSNI are on high alert as the groups step up their efforts to grab the headlines with bomb attacks.
They fear the latest surge in dissident violence, which they expect to increase further in the run-up to Christmas, will claim the lives of innocent people as the latest campaign involves the use of "proxy" bombs to target security personnel and commercial premises.
Officers on both sides of the Border are concerned at the fallout from the three-cornered battle between the well-established Continuity IRA, the group which calls itself Oglaigh na hEireann, and the latest dissident alliance, the New IRA.
After the latest proxy bomb attack in Belfast's main commercial centre, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said: "These groupings are trying to bring themselves to notice again.
"They seem to be in some form of bizarre competition to make sure they have a profile. We have seen letter bombs, under-car booby traps, blast bombs and hijackings," he said.
Mr Baggott said the surge in dissident activity would result in extra police patrols but said there would be no going back to the past and no "ring of steel" that had existed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Gardai have stepped up surveillance on key suspects south of the Border where the dissidents have been attempting to establish logistical support for their bombing units in the North.
A recent intervention by armed officers resulted in the seizure of a large load of explosive mixture that was destined for use in a bomb attack across the Border.
And last week a man was jailed by the Special Criminal Court for possession of mortar launch tubes that were to have been used by the Real IRA.
The re-emergence of proxy bombs -- last used by the Provisional IRA -- has heightened tensions on the streets of Belfast and Derry.
In the latest attack, a bomb containing 59kg of home-made explosive in a beer keg was left in a car outside a shopping centre at Victoria Square in Belfast city centre on Sunday night.
It was about a quarter the size of the Omagh bomb. The detonator exploded but failed to trigger the bomb.
The bomb was placed in the back of a silver Renault Laguna after the driver of the car had been stopped in the Ardoyne area by three masked men and ordered to bring the vehicle to the car park to be loaded with the bomb. After abandoning the car, he ran to the nearby Musgrave Street police station and raised the alarm.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from restaurants and a cinema as British Army bomb disposal experts moved in. The detonator exploded as they were about to examine the car.
The alert caused massive traffic disruption in the city centre with several surrounding streets also sealed off.
Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore said last night he unreservedly condemned the incident.