GARDAÍ have said the threat of a terrorist attack by dissident republicans was a reality in the North, but not in Britain.
Security chiefs were responding to warnings from the head of the British domestic intelligence agency that renegade republican groups might extend their terror campaign to Britain.
MI5 boss Jonathan Evans, who rarely speaks in public, said yesterday: “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 there were “increasing signs of co-ordination and co-operation” between dissident groups, resulting in 30 attacks or attempted attacks in the North this year.
He said the groups were using a greater variety of techniques from shooting to large vehicle bombs and had improved their capability in the use of explosives.
MI5 has estimated there are around 600 hardline Republicans involved in terrorist activity.
Garda intelligence chiefs yesterday said that all information available to them showed the terror threat remained directed at the North and not in Britain.
“There’s no doubt all the dissidents would love to launch an attack in Britain, but we have not seen any evidence of a capability to do that; there’s no evidence of talk in that regard, let alone the organisational or logistical ability,” said one security source.
He said the dissident groups do not have the community support in Britain the Provisional IRA had in previous decades. “They don’t have sleeper cells in the UK, they don’t have the access to bodies there or volunteers.”
Gardaí said all the effort of the various dissident groups in the last two years has been directed across the border.
“Dissidents are more active in the last 18 months than the previous five years, but it’s all in the North,” he said.
In addition, gardaí say most of the terrorist attacks have been close to the border — in south Armagh and Tyrone — close to their support base.
They say dissident groups are “relatively autonomous”. While this limits their reach, it makes them “more dangerous, more unpredictable”, gardaí say.
But gardaí say that all the dissidents need is one “big one” to make their mark.
Last March, the Real IRA claimed a bomb attack outside an army barracks in Holywood, Co Down, the headquarters for MI5 in the North.
Last February, a 250lb Real IRA car bomb exploded outside Newry courthouse. It was the first dissident car bomb in the North for 12 years.
The previous November, a 400lb car bomb was driven through a security barrier at the Policing Board’s Belfast headquarters and partially exploded.
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