UK raises dissident terror alert
Security chiefs here disagree with assessment
Dissident republicans now pose a substantial threat of launching a terrorist attack in Britain, according to the latest assessment given to the government in London.
Britain's home secretary Theresa May said yesterday the threat level from Irish-related terrorism had been raised from moderate to substantial.
This meant that an attack was a "strong possibility", she added.
Mrs May said the assessment had been carried out by MI5's director general, Jonathan Evans.
However, it has been challenged by senior anti-terrorist officers here and in Northern Ireland, where security chiefs believe the dissidents do not have the capacity to launch a new terror campaign in Britain.
The threat level in the North has been 'severe' since March last year when two British soldiers and a police officer were murdered in two separate attacks by the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA.
This is the highest level of threat and had not been used since the Omagh bomb massacre in August 1998 when 29 people were killed.
The new threat level of 'substantial' applies to England, Scotland and Wales. Meanwhile, the likelihood of a terror attack in Britain from international groups linked to al Qa'ida remains at "severe".
This is the first time that the threat level has been published by Britain's Home Office and it follows a warning last week from Mr Evans that the dissidents presented a "real and rising" security challenge.
He pointed out that the dissidents had been responsible for more than 30 attacks or attempted attacks on security targets since the start of the year, compared to about 20 for all of last year.
A Real IRA spokesman had also claimed in an interview in the 'Guardian' newspaper that it was planning to attack financial as well as security targets in a new campaign that would also target bank employees.
However, there is a lot of scepticism north and south of the Border about the claims and police believe Mr Evans's rhetoric is more likely to be an attempt to secure further personnel and resources for MI5.
The security agency has been forced to send extra agents to Northern Ireland where its intelligence-gathering exercises appear to have achieved limited success in combating the growing potential of the four main dissident gangs -- the two Real IRA factions, the Continuity IRA and the self-styled Oglaigh na hEireann.
A spokesman for Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said last night: "We continue to devote substantial resources to counteract the threat, which so-called dissident republican groups represent and there are unprecedented levels of co-operation between the security services in the two jurisdictions."