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Terror attack threat in Northern Ireland still 'severe', warns Theresa Villiers

Published 15/12/2015

PSNI officers are the primary targets of dissident republicans
PSNI officers are the primary targets of dissident republicans

The threat from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland is still "severe", says Theresa Villiers, warning that a terrorist attack is likely with a "very real threat of harm" to the public.

The Secretary of State issued an update today on the security situation in the province, saying "the same small groups of dissident republican terrorists" have continued their violence in the past nine months.

"There have been 16 national security attacks by violent dissident republicans this year in which they have sought to cause harm and death," she said.

"The primary targets have been PSNI officers, but prison officers and members of the armed forces have also been targeted."

Attacks this year include:

  • In May and July two radio-controlled bombs were deployed in Belfast and Lurgan in an attempt to target security force personnel
  • In June an under-vehicle improvised explosive device was deployed against two off-duty PSNI officers at their home address in Co Londonderry.
  • In August a device initiated inside a postal van while it was parked in Palace barracks in County Down. No one was injured but there was considerable damage caused by the fire that followed to the vehicle and others nearby.
  • In October a viable bomb was recovered from the grounds of a Londonderry hotel due to host a PSNI recruitment event, and several days later an under-vehicle device was planted in Belfast

  • The following day a military hand grenade was thrown at PSNI officers responding to reports of anti-social behaviour in Belfast; the grenade landed by the officers’ feet but did not explode.

  • In November two police officers in their patrol vehicle in Belfast were fortunate to escape uninjured when they were targeted with an automatic rifle.

Ms Villiers said: "Fatalities or serious casualties were avoided in these attacks by narrow margins."

She added: "Even where there is no injury to people or damage to property, it is often the case that members of the public suffer significant disruption. This can include being forced out of their homes overnight while police deal with security alerts, not knowing if the device is real or hoax and always having to assume the worst."

Government funds given to the PSNI (£231 million from 2011 to 2016) has stemmed the increase in terrorist activity that emerged in 2008, she said.

"There were 22 national security related attacks in 2014 compared with 40 in 2010.

"But the need for total vigilance in the face of the continuing threat remains."

Ms Villiers thanked the PSNI, MI5 and An Garda Siochana for an "outstanding job", "in many cases placing themselves at significant risk in order to keep people safe".

DUP MP Ian Paisley welcomed the statement: "The dissident republicans' crime gangs are being squeezed and boxed in by the legitimate forces of law and order.

"There can be no let up in the battle against dissident republicans and I urge the government to continue this wise investment in protecting the people of the United Kingdom from these criminals."

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