Police search and surround Belfast courthouse before Colin Duffy hearing over New IRA terror gang charges
Officers from the PSNI's Tactical Support Group (TSG) searched the area around Belfast's Laganside Courts this morning ahead of a court appearance by top republican Colin Duffy.
The leading dissident is due to appear at Belfast Magistrates' Court charged with directing the New IRA paramilitary group.
The 49-year-old from Lurgan is also accused of attempting to kill police officers, possession of firearms, membership of the IRA, conspiracy to murder and preparing terrorist acts.
The New IRA terror group has claimed it was behind Thursday night’s gun attack on police officers at Rossnareen Avenue in Andersonstown in west Belfast. Two officers cheated death when eight shots from an assault rifle were fired at their car.
On Saturday police revealed the gunmen’s getaway car, a black BMW, was stolen in Co Meath in September and had its registration plates changed.
There is a large security presence today at Laganside court as Duffy appears alongside co-accused Harry Fitzsimons, 47, of Sliabh Dubh View in Belfast and 54-year-old Alex McCrory, who is currently in Maghaberry Prison.
Details of the case against the trio, who jointly stand accused of a gun attack on police on the Crumlin Road in December 2013, are likely to be revealed as the judge decides whether there is a case to answer.
The judge is also expected to make a ruling on whether a statement from a Detective Chief Inspector from the PSNI’s Air Support Unit can be included in any subsequent trial.
Applications to allow PSNI officers and M15 personnel to give evidence anonymously will also be heard.
Duffy, of Forest Glade in Lurgan, Co Armagh, faces a lengthy jail sentence if found guilty of directing terrorism.
He was acquitted in 2012 of the double murder of soldiers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey outside Masserene army barracks in Antrim.
He has always denied any involvement in the gun attack that killed the two sappers as they collected pizzas just hours before they left for a tour in Afghanistan.
In 1996, the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction and life sentence for murdering a former UDR soldier, 57-year-old John Lyness, who was shot dead outside his home in Lurgan.
A year later, charges faced by Duffy of killing two police officers, John Graham and David Johnston, were dropped due to insufficient evidence.
Today's hearing comes just one month after three of Duffy’s relatives were acquitted of terror charges.
Shane Duffy, Paul John Duffy and Damien Daniel Duffy appeared in Belfast Crown Court last month where they were informed the Crown was “offering no further evidence against any of the accused”. All three were due to face trial later this year on terrorist-related offences.
Mr Justice Colton returned not guilty verdicts on all charges after prosecutors refused to reveal details about car tracking devices.
Another dissident republican, west Belfast man Carl Reilly is also currently facing directing terrorism charges after a surveillance operation caried out at a County Louth hotel.
Similar charges were withdrawn two years ago against Sean Kelly and Sharon Rafferty from County Tyrone.
The charge was also used in the 1990s against Mid-Ulster UVF killer Laurence Maguire and UFF boss Johnny Adair.