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Fear of new wave of terrorism by dissident groups

Dissident republican groups remain small and isolated organisations, but experts warn they are growing in size and expertise.

The fringe groups, including the Continuity IRA and Real IRA, are violently opposed to the peace process and have focused their energies on launching sporadic waves of attacks, primarily on the police.

And key figures in the North concede that it only takes a handful of dangerous individuals to inflict major casualties.

The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), has said it is difficult to place a figure on the number of active dissidents.

But while the groups are small scale in comparison with the mainstream IRA at the height of the Troubles, there are early signs of some co-operation between the separate dissident republican organisations.

The news comes as the head of the MI5 warned that dissident republicans could attempt to mount a new wave of terrorist attacks in Britiain.

The threat level was raised after British Home Secretary Theresa May said an attack was now a "strong possibility". But it was still lower than the overall threat to the UK from international terrorism.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said: "These small groups have the ability to do damage. Two or three people can do a lot of damage if they go undetected and they have the expertise."

Professor Adrian Guelke, an expert on terror groups at Queen's University Belfast, said: "Throughout 2009 there was seen to be an increase in recruitment. Their capacity is quite advanced as they have recruited people who were former provos. There is now concern that these groups have access to a team of experts."