Inside MI5: Dissidents 'highly capable' of carrying out attack in Britain
Dissident republicans are now capable of launching a bomb attack on mainland Britain, security sources believe.
A “few dozen” hard line republican terrorists are responsible for the heightened security fears across Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Security sources have confirmed that the New IRA is currently the most dangerous terrorist organisation operating in the province.
Intelligence gathered by both police and MI5 suggests that the paramilitary group has improved its bomb-making techniques and is highly capable of launching a bomb attack in the UK.
A major arms haul uncovered by police in Lurgan last week was believed to belong to the New IRA.
Firearms and munitions were found by police during a two-day search operation in the grounds of a former convent on the outskirts of the Co Armagh town. Police said the items were in the advanced stages of readiness and some were ready to be used.
Formed in 2012 from the amalgamation of a number of dissident organisations, the New IRA killed prison officer Adrian Ismay, using an under-car bomb in March.
While covert surveillance and the interception of weapons being smuggled into Northern Ireland have led to the prevention of a series of deadly attacks, the capabilities of the New IRA are causing fresh concerns within security circles.
However, the numbers of dissident republicans who pose a high threat are just “a few dozen”, according to a security source.
There are others on the fringes involved in fundraising and other support roles, but the number of hard core, active radicals is low.
Their activities were also dealt a major blow earlier in the year with the discovery of two secret arms dumps in forests outside Larne. Explosives, guns and ammunition were recovered by police after suspicious objects were reported by members of the public.
Terrorists have upped their bombing campaign over the past year. According to police statistics there were 52 bomb attacks within a 12-month period — a 40% increase from the previous 12 months.
There have been unconfirmed claims from dissidents that they have acquired a large stash of Semtex, but security sources said the grouping does not have the same large-scale international outreach they previously had and added that weapons procurement “is more opportunistic now”.
A source also revealed that “four attacks are stopped for every one that gets through”.
“Some large attacks were stopped recently. There is a lot of stuff being done behind the scenes. Some of that becomes public knowledge but many don’t. That’s the nature of intelligence,” he said.
The dissident republican threat to Great Britain was raised to substantial in May following MI5 intelligence.
According to sources the level was raised after MI5 picked up “general chatter” among terror suspects.
“It is harder for them to launch an attack outside Northern Ireland but they have done it in the past,” a source said.
He added, however, that the real threat remained within Northern Ireland.
“The real threat is in Northern Ireland. That’s where all our effort is concentrated. Raising the threat level [in Great Britain] has brought it closer to the Northern Ireland level, but it is still below it,” the source said.