Dissident republicans are planning a Christmas terror blitz in Northern Ireland, a senior police commander has warned.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said officers were ramping up security levels in the region in a bid to thwart violent attacks.
A rump of republican extremists opposed to the peace process continue to engage in armed actions in Northern Ireland, with members of the security forces their primary targets.
Last year they launched a number of attacks in Belfast in the run-up to Christmas, in a clear bid to cause maximum disruption and havoc in the traditionally busy festive period.
Revellers escaped injury when a small bomb exploded in the busy Cathedral Quarter district, and in another incident a suspected firebomber set himself alight inside a shop when the device he was carrying seemingly ignited prematurely inside his jacket.
There was also a failed car bomb attack close to the entrance of the Victoria Square shopping centre, while gunmen opened fire on a passing police patrol in the Crumlin Road in the north of the city.
Mr Kerr declined to state if the warning was based on intelligence, but said: "I think the fact we are putting out a statement that we assess there is a strong possibility that violent dissident republican groupings will attempt to carry out attacks in towns and cities throughout Northern Ireland will give you a strong sense of how concerned we are about this issue.
"At this stage we know, we believe it is a strong possibility, that a number of those groups are intent on carrying out attacks across Northern Ireland. That is why we are putting put this public appeal for patience, for vigilance, for information and support over the Christmas period."
Police will mount more vehicle checkpoints across Northern Ireland during the festive season while uniformed and plain-clothed patrols will also be stepped up.
Mr Kerr stressed the need for public co-operation to thwart the dissidents.
He described the extremists as an "unrepresentative remnant of a past that no one wants to return to".
"But they remain a dangerous remnant," he added.
He warned that police had witnessed an upsurge in the level and intensity of dissident attacks in recent months.
"We have also seen an uplift in the capability shown by some of these groups as well," he said.
"This year we assess there is a strong possibility that violent dissident republican groupings will attempt to carry out more attacks in towns and cities across Northern Ireland in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.
"There remains a severe threat across Northern Ireland posed by violent dissident republican groupings who remain determined to cause death and bring that disruption to the streets of Northern Ireland over the Christmas period."
He said that while Belfast remained the "premium target" for the groups, police assessed that other towns and cities were also at risk.
The commander said some of the groups co-operated with each other while others were in competition.