Terrorist plans to bring death to Northern Ireland's streets foiled by police
A number of lethal terror attacks were thwarted by a major policing operation over the past month, a top police officer has revealed.
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said several planned attacks by dissident republicans over Easter were prevented.
Any feeling of success has been dampened, however, by the murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay, added Mr Harris.
Mr Ismay died last month after a bomb exploded under his van at Hillsborough Drive, off the Woodstock Road in Belfast.
He died of a heart attack triggered by a blood clot 11 days after he was injured.
"We had quite a bit of trepidation looking towards Easter 2016 as to what it might mean around these violent dissident republican groups.
"That was set against the backdrop of the murder of Adrian Ismay," said Mr Harris.
The senior officer added: "Easter period itself, in our terms, went off well and peacefully enough, free from major incident. Undoubtedly a lot of what they wanted to do was thwarted, but any sense of success we might feel about that is completely set aside because Adrian Ismay was murdered."
Mr Harris warned that Mr Ismay's killing demonstrated that dissident terrorists had both the access to explosives and the intent to use them. "It remains very concerning. As ever, we are dealing with a severe threat and work very closely with our colleagues in An Garda Siochana and the security service. There is a lot we are doing around enforcement and bringing pressure to bear, but still a severe threat exists."
He added that the ruthlessness of these groups was also demonstrated last weekend when they murdered taxi driver Michael McGibbon in north Belfast. He was ordered to attend a "punishment" shooting. He bled to death in an alleyway after he was shot three times in the leg.
Intelligence of dissident republican intent to step up their campaign of violence over the Easter Rising centenary led to a major surge in police activity. That level of policing is now being downgraded, Mr Harris said.
"In the run-up to Easter and throughout we had decided on a very full programme of patrolling. All the available officers were doing long hours and duty. That's hard to sustain so we have had to come back from that. But if there are any particular threats at a particular time we are in a position to uplift that. That has been the pattern over many months. We just can't keep our staff on surge all the time," he explained.
He added: "Undoubtedly we are constantly in this effort to prevent attacks. I don't want to say how many or what week, but attacks have been prevented over the last number of months. People should be assured that, constantly, our resources are about preventing these attacks and bringing perpetrators to justice. That includes these punishment attacks. They are terrible attacks. We do not turn a blind eye in any shape or form to those."
Last year there were 16 attacks by dissidents, compared to 40 in 2010.
Mr Harris said this drop was due to policing successes both sides of the border.
"2010 was a particularly active year for all these various dissident groups. There has been a lot of success in between in terms of the criminal justice process both north and south. We should see that difference between 2010 and 2015 as being a success in terms of preventing these terrible attacks. At the same time, there are these groups of people with intent, and that seems to be a more difficult thing to erode."