Friday 18 October 2019

Dissident bomb fuels fear of return to terror after Brexit

  • ‘New IRA’ behind bomb that forced evacuation of hundreds
  • Hard border could encourage more terrorism, Gardaí believe
  • Theresa May reveals plan to rewrite Good Friday Agreement
  • 'An appalling, reckless and cynical act of terror,' says Taoiseach
Forensic experts examine the remains of the car that exploded outside Derry courthouse. Photo: Margaret McLaughlin
Forensic experts examine the remains of the car that exploded outside Derry courthouse. Photo: Margaret McLaughlin

Tom Brady and Kevin Doyle

There are fears of a growing threat from dissidents on both sides of the Border as they seek to capitalise on a hard Brexit.

Senior anti-terrorist officers in the Garda and the PSNI believe there could be a new surge of violence from dissidents this year - a concern that was heightened after the Derry car bomb.

Several key figures in the dissident groups are due for release from prison in the coming months and they are expected to influence a re-organisation as they focus on the fall-out from Brexit.

A hard Border could potentially open up opportunities for them to recruit members and fundraise through smuggling and other criminal activities.

Most of the main groups in the Republic are currently leaderless and their hierarchy structures have collapsed because gardaí have put leading terrorists behind bars. However, they may now seek to regroup.

Last night it emerged that UK Prime Minister Theresa May is to propose an amendment to the Good Friday Agreement to avoid having to commit to the backstop. British ministers believe that adding text into the agreement would serve as a way of avoiding the controversial backstop.

Condemnation: Leo Varadkar hit out at the bomb attack in Derry. Photo: PA
Condemnation: Leo Varadkar hit out at the bomb attack in Derry. Photo: PA

Meanwhile, in comments that will be welcomed by Dublin, Labour MP Keir Starmer indicated his party is open-minded on the backstop.

He said that while there are problems with it, the chances now of a deal that does not include it are "very slim".

The detonation of the car bomb outside a courthouse in Derry on Saturday evening has brought into sharp relief the threat posed to the peace process by a hard Brexit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the attack as "an appalling, reckless and cynical act of terror".

"Violence to achieve political objectives has been rejected by the people of this island again and again.

"The Government condemns it in the strongest possible terms," he said.

The dissident republican group the New IRA is believed to be behind the bombing which saw hundreds of people, including a large number of children attending a church youth group, evacuated from the surrounding area.

The New IRA, formed in 2012, poses the biggest threat from dissident republicans since the Provisional IRA, according to an assessment by the head of the Garda intelligence and security section, Assistant Commissioner Michael O'Sullivan. That assessment is shared by the PSNI, which is also seriously concerned about the impact of a hard Brexit.

Attempts were made by several dissident groups, including the New IRA and the Real IRA, to find an overall leader, who could unite the terrorists into one cohesive unit but the talks foundered when agreement could not be reached.

However, the Brexit outcome and the prison releases are likely to be major factors as these groups regroup.

Although the Derry car bomb device has been described as crude, the New IRA's bomb-making skills are considered more advanced than those of other groups.

It has also been finding new sources of explosives and weapons and is continuing to recruit personnel, not previously known by gardaí or the PSNI to have been involved in renegade republican activities.

During 2016 and 2017, gardaí seized 100kg of explosive, nine AK-47 rifles, a sub-machine gun and a sniper rifle from dissidents.

As a result of a build-up in non-jury cases, a second special criminal court was opened, something not seen during three decades of Provisional IRA terror.

The New IRA has more than 50 activists, all of whom are listed as persons of interest to the Garda security and intelligence section.

It is estimated to have about 200 supporters, providing logistical help such as providing vehicles and safe houses.

The group has strongholds in Armagh, Belfast, Dublin, Derry-Donegal, Newry, Louth and Tyrone.

On this side of the Border it is mainly located in Dublin where it has lost some senior figures, including its leader, to gardaí arrests.

Some former Real IRA factions also have alignments with the New IRA, including Derry, and members of the former Republican Action Against Drugs, which was based around Clady, Derry and Strabane are also linked.

Many dissidents have acquired counter-surveillance skills by attending courses in countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, according to intelligence sources. Most of them travel out under the guise of setting up supposedly legitimate security companies.

The New IRA has also been developing its "engineering" side and has been manufacturing improvised explosive devices and attempting to open up new routes to buy guns. It was responsible in November 2012 for the murder of Northern Ireland prison officer David Black on the M1 as he was driving to work at Maghaberry, near Lisburn, as well as another prison officer, Adrian Ismay.

A dissident Republican Party, known as Saoradh, has the support of New IRA prisoners in jails on both sides of the Border but it denies police claims that it is the New IRA's political wing.

Irish Independent

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