| 3.9°C Belfast

Republican dissidents plot to down helicopter

Dissident republicans have secured a surface-to-air missile and are planning to use it to shoot down a helicopter full of police officers, the Belfast Telegraph has learned.

One day after dissidents launched an attack on a PSNI station in Strabane we can reveal that police have uncovered a terrifying plot to shoot down one of their helicopters — the latest indication of the growing sinister capabilities of dissident republicans.

Any such move to target one of the PSNI’s choppers could have devastating consequences.

“The latest sort of threat is that they are fully aware of the fact the helicopter does not carry armour. They have access to rocket-propelled grenades or other surface-to-air missile and one of their priorities is to take out a helicopter. We have been made aware that they have the intention and capability to do this,” a police source said.

Dissident republicans are continuing to adopt different strategies and techniques in their murderous campaign and recent attacks involving firearms, booby trap car bombs and pipe-bombs, as well as the discovery in Armagh of a horizontal mortar type device similar to those used by the IRA during the Troubles, suggests they are building up their arsenal.

They have also shown that they are prepared to bring their campaign of terror right across Northern Ireland, no longer concentrating just on border areas but also striking in the heart of Belfast with an attempt to blow up Policing Board headquarters and an attempt to murder a police officer’s girlfriend with an under-car booby trap bomb in east Belfast.

Yesterday Chief Constable Matt Baggott said he would not be bullied by dissident republicans and insisted he has enough resources to tackle the security situation and ordinary crime.

“We are not going to run away and hide, we are going to isolate these bullies and make sure the community has a voice. I have a problem when bullies are given too much space,” he said.

“I am never going to say we have got a handle on everything, because we haven’t. But I believe we have the resources to deal with both (the dissident threat and ordinary crime).”

DUP Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt, however, said he remains “seriously concerned” by the dissident threat.

“The threat level is through the roof. Officers are being targeted daily, the ante is being upped on a daily basis with the dissident threat. It is only by the grace of God we are not looking at another police officer or civilian dead.”

Belfast Telegraph