Friday 23 February 2018

Real IRA could launch one-off attacks on Britain, UK ministers warned

British Prime Minister David Cameron. Photo: AP
British Prime Minister David Cameron. Photo: AP

Tom Whitehead

Republican terror groups are capable of carrying out “one-off” attacks on the British mainland, David Cameron's Government has warned, and are sufficiently armed to pose an “enduring threat”.

Threat assessments have concluded that the Real IRA and other dissident republicans still “aspire” to target the UK even if Northern Ireland remains it main focus, the Daily Telegraph has reported.

It comes as MI5 warned the threat from such groups is four times greater than figures suggest and some are reverting to old Provisional IRA methods.

For every dissident attack in Northern Ireland last year the Security Service helped foil three to four, the head of the spy agency said.

A bomb attack in County Armagh in July involved police being called to reports of an unexploded device at which point a second was detonated.

Whitehall sources said the tactic of luring police or soldiers to an area and then attack them was a common practice with the Provisional IRA.

Use of the tactic could signal a return to the sophisticated bombings of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, a military counter intelligence expert said.

In October, a review for the Government concluded that all the main republican and loyalist paramilitary terrorist groups remain in existence, 17 years after the Good Friday peace deal.

The Provisional IRA's ruling body, the Army Council, still existed, but in a "much reduced form", MPs were told.

The review by police and MI5 said all the paramilitary groups that declared ceasefires during the peace process in the 1990s have since gone on to commit murders.

And while none of the groups were currently planning or conducting terror attacks, individual members with histories of violence remained a threat to national security, it said.

It raises the prospect that some veteran terrorists in the current groups are beginning to have more sway or younger fanatics are copying old methods.

There was also criticism in July over a paramilitary display at the funeral of veteran republican Peggy O'Hara amid reports that shots were fired over her coffin – a regular feature during the Troubles.

Threat assessments contained in the Government’s National Security Strategy said: “Violent dissident republicans have sufficient numbers and weapons to pose an enduring threat in Northern Ireland primarily to the police, but also prison officers, members of the Armed forces, national infrastructure and commercial targets.

“Violent dissident republicans aspire to target Great Britain, and some groupings remains capable of conducting one-off attacks, but currently consider Northern Ireland to be their main focus.”

During 2014, there were 20 attacks in Northern Ireland attributed to dissident Republican groups.

Andrew Parker, the Director General of MI5, told a recent inquiry in to surveillance methods: “For every one of those attacks we and our colleagues in the police have stopped three or four others coming to fruition.”

The threat level to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland-related terrorism remains at “severe”.

In a recent report David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, said: “Northern Ireland’s progress towards a post-conflict society is unfortunately far from complete.

“A real terrorist threat persists in parts of Northern Ireland.”

Col Richard Kemp, who worked in military intelligence during eight tours of Northern Ireland and became a Cabinet Office counter terrorism adviser, said using a second device was a common IRA bomb tactic during the Troubles.

“People in the security world are increasingly concerned. To date, the threat has not been as sophisticated, but the secondary device threat is maybe a sign that the sophistication is returning.”

“The intelligence covering is very good, so while many attacks are attempted, not many get through.”

“The security services maintain a strong presence in Northern Ireland. Many people might be surprised at how strong their presence is.”

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