Belfast Telegraph

Big Belfast pre-Christmas policing operation: Dissident republicans will go all out to score headlines

By Brian Rowan

The big Belfast pre-Christmas policing operation is not being shaped on "specific or firm" threat information. But, behind the scenes, intelligence assessments show an "increasing pace in dissident activity".

"The last half of the year has been busier than the first half," a senior police source commented - busier in terms of attack-planning and what is intended by the dissident groups.

"They'll be keen to do something," the senior officer commented - and keen for a number of reasons. There is the headline that would come with a Christmas attack. Something "small" in terms of dissident effort could have "a massive impact".

Police intelligence officers and MI5 are also looking at past patterns. This includes the attempt by dissidents to explode a car bomb near the Victoria Square shopping complex this time a year ago. And, then, a few weeks later, a bomb did explode in the Cathedral Quarter on one of the busiest pre-Christmas party nights.

So, a big-numbers visible police presence is about reassuring the public. But it is out of vision that the real battle with the dissidents is happening.

Painstaking covert operations have produced results. Significant Continuity and dissident IRA figures were arrested in planned operations that interrupted these organisations at their highest tiers of command. And this is another reason why the various dissident factions will be "keen to make a point".

No one is suggesting that the recent intelligence and security successes against the dissidents have removed the threat. The devices fired recently and that struck police vehicles in Belfast and Derry are a reminder of continuing dangers. And in these attacks we saw the thin lines between what the dissidents would term success and failure.

They will know the publicity worth and news value of being able to breach city centre security at Christmas - and will know there will be a significant headline with any such attack.

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