Belfast Telegraph

A security alert every day - Army bomb squad suited up 347 times last year

Bomb disposal officers still a regular feature of life in Northern Ireland, 17 years after Good Friday Agreement

By Chris Kilpatrick

The bomb squad dealt with an average of one security alert every day last year.

Seventeen years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the Army was called on to deal with 347 alerts, according to a report compiled by a security watchdog.

Live pipe-bombs and other improvised devices were defused on 67 occasions. Another 22 alerts involved explosions, according to David Seymour, who compiled the report.

The figures underline the fact that the threat to police and prison officers remains severe from dissident republican terrorists, who are deemed to have "lethal intent and capability".

Mr Seymour said the sight of bomb disposal officers on the streets "sadly remains a regular feature of life in Northern Ireland".

But the PSNI and MI5 were said to have caused major disruption to dissident groups on both sides of the border, seizing Semtex, weapons and bomb components.

The incidents were recorded between August 2013 and July last year.

The report from the Independent Reviewer of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 said the military was called out roughly once a day.

While hailing the work of the police and intelligence services, the watchdog said it was vital they remained on high alert.

The report said: "PSNI officers are targeted both on and off duty.

"Routine patrol patterns are liable to be exploited by dissident republican terrorists.

"Routine requests for police assistance (eg burglary) have to be assessed against the background of potential 'come on' traps, where police are lured into exposed and vulnerable situations to attempt to cause them harm.

"Personal protection arrangements for the police are at a level which does not exist in the rest of the UK and 700 police officers were injured in 2013 alone (10% of all police officers).

"Officers in the PSNI are routinely armed and are protected by ballistic body armour. Police stations are protected by armed security and in some areas additional crews are sent on patrol at night just for the purpose of protecting the police. The PSNI operate in a jurisdiction where alternatives to policing have traditionally been provided by armed paramilitary groups and this still continues.

"Finally, the PSNI are currently under huge budgetary pressure."

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said that despite the continuing terror threat the PSNI had seized 2.5kgs of Semtex from the so-called new IRA dissident group which was undoubtedly intended for use in lethal explosive devices, and noted that last year's parading season passed off largely peacefully thanks to the strong co-operative approach of all those involved.

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