Dissident republican terror groups are currently competing with each other to murder police officers, the PSNI's Chief Constable has warned.
After officers were targeted in five major terror plots within the past month, Matt Baggott said he has been left feeling "nervous" by the "momentum" in dissident republican attacks.
Over the past four weeks bombs have been intercepted on their way to police stations in Fermanagh and Londonderry, a mortar was discovered aimed at New Barnsley police station in Belfast and explosive devices were detonated beside officers on patrol in Newtownabbey and Lurgan.
"My sense is that there is almost a competition between (the dissident republican groups) to bring themselves to notice. Although the threat level remains at severe, we have seen a momentum grow and I think that is down to them wanting to raise their profile.
"The recklessness of that is very dangerous and is a concern.
"We have had the same attacks over the last three, four, five years, but the sense of competition is growing," Mr Baggott told the Belfast Telegraph.
Dissident republican groups operating in Northern Ireland include the Real IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH), the Continuity IRA and the IRA – a group comprised of former Provisional IRA members that claimed responsibility for the murder of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr, who was killed in a booby-trap car bomb two years ago.
Mr Baggott said that this new competition between the terror cells is "deeply dangerous".
"I am increasingly nervous, on the back of last month, that there appears to be a momentum in dissident activity that doesn't have any argument behind it and is just simply about violence.
"Although the threat level is severe, and we have had this whole range of attacks, my concern is that without ever being able to set out quite how they see the police as the enemy, and without ever setting out quite what they hope to achieve by this, it is almost as though this competitiveness is driving them into a new phase of recklessness.
"The view of the police as something other than impartial is simply untrue."
Mr Baggott said that the PSNI has been containing the threat from dissident republicans and bringing people before the courts "in increasing numbers".
However, he admitted: "Somehow they are still there. Sadly we still have groups of people who operate in pockets, who I think are fuelled simply by hatred and irrational arguments."
Despite the threat to officers, the Chief Constable has insisted that police will not be hampered from performing their jobs within communities.
"What we are seeing is policing being accepted locally in increasing strength.
"I have had some great conversations with people who have come to accept that we are simply the police and that actually the police need to be allowed to get on with their job to deal with drug dealing, traffic accidents, search and rescues, human trafficking.
"I am not going to be deflected from this and none of my colleagues are.
"Whether it is a bomb left in a bin in Lurgan or mortar attacks on police stations, none of it will stop personal policing," the Chief Constable said.
Recent acts of terror
- March 30: A bomb hidden inside a bin exploded in Lurgan while police officers were in the area following information given that an unnotified parade was going to take place.
- March 23: Police believe a car bomb discovered on the Derrylin Road, Enniskillen, may have been destined for Lisnaskea PSNI station.
- March 12: Officers discovered a mortar-type device aimed towards New Barnsley police station in Belfast.
- March 9: Three police officers escaped injury following a bomb attack in north Belfast. The officers were responding to a callout in the Hazelbank area, close to the M5 motorway, when a device exploded close to them.
- March 3: Dissident republicans were within minutes of firing four mortar bombs at a Londonderry PSNI station when police intercepted a van carrying the primed devices at Letterkenny Road in the city.