Dissidents ratchet up terror campaign with one bomb attack a week
Police are dealing with a terrorist bomb attack every week in Northern Ireland, shock figures have revealed.
The number of bombing incidents across the province increased by 44% over the past year, confirming concerns that paramilitary groups have stepped up their terror campaign with the use of explosives.
In the past 12 months there were 52 bomb attacks - including the booby-trap that killed prison officer Adrian Ismay - compared to 36 incidents in 2014/15, according to new PSNI statistics. These incidents include devices which exploded or were defused.
The revelations come a day after Home Secretary Theresa May, on the advice of MI5, raised the official threat level to Britain from Northern Ireland-related terrorism to 'substantial'. The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file PSNI members, warned that the rising violent crime rate and persistent terrorist threat were putting an extreme burden on officers.
"These figures come as no surprise given the pressure on resources and the fact that we are heavily under-strength," said Federation chairman Mark Lindsay.
"Grappling with rising violent crime rates and a continuing and persistent dissident republican terrorist threat are placing an inordinate strain on officers.
"There's only so much 6,500 officers are physically capable of doing. Right now they're stretched to the limit, and there's a very real danger we're close to a tipping point."
Mr Lindsay said that given the warning from MI5 this week about the threat level, "there is an undeniable case for an immediate recruitment drive to bring the force up to a resilient and realistic total of 7,500".
"We need the Government to make a forceful statement on officer levels. We're currently 600 below the minimum peacetime number recommended by Patten ... we have to prevent the migration of dissident republican activity to the mainland, and to do that we need more officers on the ground," he added.
SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said: "There is a need to ensure the police have resources to ensure people can live in peace and harmony. These statistics are concerning.
"This type of terror campaign should not still be happening. Those behind these attacks need to get off people's backs."
Terrorist bombing incidents over the past 12 months included the murder of Mr Ismay, the discovery of a bomb at a Londonderry hotel ahead of a police recruitment event, a bid to kill police with a mortar bomb in Strabane, and the discovery of a car bomb under an officer's car in Eglinton.
Over the past year there were also 36 paramilitary shootings.
Two people were shot dead by dissident republicans in Belfast in recent weeks.
On Monday night takeaway delivery driver Dan Murray was murdered after being lured into a part of west Belfast by a bogus call in what was a third shooting in 24 hours.
Last month taxi driver Michael McGibbon was killed in an alleyway shooting close to his north Belfast home.
However, despite concern over terrorist gun attacks, the number of shooting incidents in the past year was 51% less than in 2014/15, when there were 73.
One officer told the Belfast Telegraph: "We have more bombing incidents, dissident republicans are running around shooting people dead in Belfast, scores of people in the city living under death threats, violent crime is on the up, and yet they keep taking our resources off us. It's becoming more and more difficult to keep people safe."
Another officer warned: "The pressure we are under is immense. Several potentially deadly attacks have been stopped, but unfortunately it's only a matter of time before someone else is killed."