Attack on Britain by dissident republicans 'a strong possibility'
Published 24/09/2010 | 17:18
The threat level to Britain from Irish-related terrorism has gone from moderate to substantial, meaning an attack is a "strong possibility", the British Home Secretary Theresa May said today.
Mrs May said: "The Director-General of the Security Service has informed me that he has raised the threat to Great Britain from Irish-related terrorism from moderate to substantial, meaning that an attack is a strong possibility.
"Judgments are based on a broad range of factors, including the intent and capabilities of terrorist groups.
"This is the first time we have published the Irish-related threat assessment to Great Britain. This is in the interests of transparency and to encourage people to remain vigilant.
"The first and most important duty of government is the protection and security of the British people.
"We have been consistent in stating that the threat to the UK from terrorism is real and serious.
"The balance we aim to strike is keeping people alert but not alarmed.
"I would urge the public to report any suspicious activity to the police and security services in their continuing efforts to discover, track and disrupt terrorist activity."
The threat assessment was being published for the first time "to encourage people to be alert to the increased threat from Irish-related terrorism", British officials said.
But the threat is still lower than the overall threat level to the UK from international terrorism, published by the UK's Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (Jtac), which remains at severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.
"Measures taken to deal with the international terrorist threat will also counter the threat from Irish dissident republican terrorism," a British officials said.
The head of MI5 warned last week that dissident republicans could attempt to mount a new wave of terrorist attacks on the British mainland.
Jonathan Evans, the director-general of the Security Service, said there had been a "persistent rise" in "activity and ambition" by dissident groups in the North over the past three years.
While they did not have the capacity to return to the levels of violence caused by the Provisional IRA at the height of the Troubles, he said they still represented "a real and rising security challenge".
His warning came after one group, the Real IRA, publicly threatened to target banks and other financial institutions in the City of London, accusing them of "financing Britain's colonial and capitalist system".
In a speech to the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals in the City, Mr Evans said while MI5's "main effort" remained focused on international terrorism, it had been necessary to reinforce its presence in the North to deal with the heightened threat.
In his speech, Mr Evans acknowledged that the recent rise in activity by dissident republicans had not been foreseen, having been assumed just three years ago to be "low and likely to decline further".
"Perhaps we were giving insufficient weight to the pattern of history over the last hundred years, which shows that, whenever the main body of Irish republicanism has reached a political accommodation and rejoined constitutional politics, a hard-liner rejectionist group would fragment off and continue with the so- called 'armed struggle'," he said.
Since the start of the year, however, there had been more than 30 attacks or attempted attacks on national security targets by dissident republicans, compared with just over 20 for the whole of last year, he said.
At the same time, there were increasing signs of co-operation and co-ordination between the various groups, deploying a greater variety of attack techniques with improved weapons capability - including Semtex explosives associated in the past with the Provisional IRA who are now on ceasefire.
"While at present the dissidents' campaign is focused on Northern Ireland, we cannot exclude the possibility that they might seek to extend their attacks to Great Britain as violent republican groups have traditionally done," he said.
But he said that, ultimately, the dissidents had done little to develop a "credible political strategy" the way the Provisionals and Sinn Fein did, and many combined terrorism with organised crime, including trafficking drugs.