A dissident republican faction terrorising nationalist areas of Londonderry is gearing up to kill police officers, the chairman of the Police Federation has said.
Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) has been blamed by senior commanders for attempted murder after an explosive device was hurled at a police vehicle in the city recently.
Federation chairman Terry Spence told the annual conference of the organisation, which represents rank-and-file officers, that RAAD had created an extortion racket out of punishment beatings. More than 200 young men have been forced to leave Londonderry by so-called punishment gangs.
Mr Spence said: "Now the RAAD have gone further and unashamedly exposed themselves as determined to murder police officers. Their social interest in drug crime has been an utter sham and a profile-building exercise for mounting terrorist attacks."
On June 2 a device was thrown at a police vehicle while officers were conducting searches in Londonderry's Creggan area. It damaged the vehicle but there were no injuries.
Mr Spence said RAAD should be proscribed as an organisation and the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) should be respecified as the "active terrorists" that they are.
"Neither the UVF nor the RAAD are acting in the interest of the community," he said. "They are tawdry groupings of vicious thugs, pumped up with self-importance, determined to exercise control of local communities through fear."
He added: "A downward destructive spiral of despair is being created because of the public's lack of confidence in their safety if they help the police. There has also been the hint that if some of the victims had been more robustly dealt with by the courts in the first place, perhaps there would be less community support for such barbaric punishments."
He said the sentences accorded last month to the Continuity IRA murderers of Constable Stephen Carroll sent out the wrong message. A 14-year jail term handed to a member of the gang was referred to the Court of Appeal by the director of public prosecutions. This came hours after the judge in Constable Carroll's murder trial said he would back a review of the sentencing guidelines that he was obliged to follow in the case.
Mr Spence said: "We demand that life should mean just that, a whole life sentence, no matter what age the perpetrator. If we don't take the opportunity to persuade young would-be murderers that a life in prison awaits them, then we are failing to protect our officers and failing to deter terrorists."