More than 200 dissident republican terrorists are now active and posing a threat to security in Northern Ireland, a new police assessment has revealed.
Renegade groups such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA are recruiting activists on both sides of the border, but particularly in the north. However, despite security estimates that the threat level is higher than a year ago, a senior officer insisted that the army will not be returning to the streets.
A car booby-trapped by dissidents in an attempt to kill a police officer last weekCONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
Previous estimates delivered by former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde had stated that there were about 60 active dissident republican terrorists.
A cross-border organised crime conference yesterday heard of efforts by the groups to attract more recruits to their ranks.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy told the two-day seminar in Dundalk that recent bombing incidents in east Belfast and Forkhill, south Armagh, underlined the dangers that a fresh campaign of violence represented to innocent civilians.
He said there was some evidence that the dissidents were attempting to attract more people into their ranks and their main focus appeared to be on Northern Ireland.
PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie said the threat level had been upgraded to “severe” last February and the following month two British soldiers and a police officer were murdered.
She disclosed that current intelligence indicated that the strength of the dissidents was “in the low hundreds” and this figure did not include those who provided tacit support or “turned a blind eye” to their activities.
But she was adamant that British troops would not be returning to patrol the streets of Northern Ireland although they would continue to provide technical support to the police, such as their bomb disposal expertise.
She said the PSNI was satisfied that it had the resources to deal with the dissident dangers, without calling out the troops onto the streets again.
Mr Murphy agreed with Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern that the dissidents were criminals and he said the conference would focus in particular on how they were trying to use the border to fund their terror activities through involvement in fuel laundering, smuggling and other crimes.
Ms Gillespie pointed out that channels that had been used in the past to smuggle firearms were now being exploited for other commodities such as drugs and said the cross-border links between crime gangs, that had always existed, had a greater international dimension added.
The two officers pledged that their forces would work together to ensure that policing along the border was seamless and avoid the creation of gaps that could be exploited by criminals.
The police chiefs also called on the public to play their part in combating crime by alerting their local officers to information that might be in their possession and could help prevent or solve a serious offence.
Commissioner Murphy also voiced his concern at the growing use of pipe bombs and other homemade devices by crime gangs.
He said the expertise for some of the devices could have come from dissident republican activists in the past but they were being planted mainly by criminals, many of whom were involved in the drugs trade.
Some of the attacks were linked to extortion while others were used as weapons in local feuds but in many cases the link to drug trafficking was evident.