Massereene: Dissident activity at a high as anniversary of double murder looms
One year ago this week dissident republicans unleashed a new wave of terror in Northern Ireland when they murdered two soldiers outside their barracks in Antrim and an on-duty police officer in Craigavon — marking the deadliest week here in a decade.
Today the terrorist threat remains as high as ever, with the dissidents — believed to number at least 600 — stepping up their campaign of terror in recent months, determined to kill again.
The Policing Board was told yesterday that there have been 34 separate dissident republican attacks in the last 18 months. While 160 suspects have been arrested in that period, nobody has yet been charged in relation to 25 of the incidents.
Since the beginning of this year a bomb has exploded outside Newry courthouse, a man has been shot dead in Londonderry, several police stations have come under attack, and a police officer was left fighting for his life after a booby trap bomb exploded under his car.
Despite the threat remaining “severe” Chief Constable Matt Baggott is determined to forge ahead with the normalisation of policing, which has seen the scrapping of the full-time reserve and the closing down of police stations.
Mr Baggott recognises the danger of the terrorist threat but says he believes he has enough resources to both tackle it and day to day policing issues. Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern however has warned that the Real IRA and Continuity IRA now pose a threat as serious as any paramilitary organisation did during the Troubles.
Speaking earlier this week Mr Ahern said: “The threat here I believe on this island is as dangerous as it was at any time during the Troubles.” According to security sources it is believed there are around 600 dissident republican activists currently operating on both sides of the border.
Over the past six months the dissidents are thought to have attracted another 20 to 40 members, showing that, although they are still managing to recruit, they are having difficulties recruiting on a large scale.
The security forces believe that this suggests the dissidents do not have the public support and it will therefore be difficult to mount a full-scale campaign.
There is, however, a growing sophistication to the devices that are being used in attacks. This shows that the dissidents are being schooled in bomb-making by people with a lot of knowledge and experience.
But when it comes to actually following the instructions they are somehow getting it wrong. However, it is feared that it is only a matter of time before they get it right.
“Something is going wrong somewhere between the schooling and the carrying out of the instructions.
“We are not sure what it is that is going wrong and hopefully they will keep getting it wrong,” a security source told the Belfast Telegraph.
It is known that some former disaffected members of the Provisional IRA have been assisting the dissidents.
There is speculation that they may also be receiving assistance from members of the Basque separatist group Eta.
Unlike in the past there is now a fluidity between the dissident republican groups with individuals from each providing assistance to the others when requested. This informality is making it more difficult for police to determine who is behind an attack.
Rank-and-file officers are understandably concerned about their safety, particularly new recruits who believed they were joining up in an era of peace.
Officers are regularly being forced to flee from their homes and rehoused in secret locations amid warnings that their lives are under threat.
One officer who is based in the Armagh area told the Belfast Telegraph: “Sometimes you just feel like a sitting duck.
“When you go out on a call you’re not sure if you will return. These guys are determined to kill and they are not going to give up that easily.
“It is only natural that officers feel anxious, but it is not stopping us from doing our jobs. Personally I have been finding the local communities very supportive, which helps give you a boost.”