Police have urged retailers to review their security amid concerns that dissident republicans could mount a Christmas bombing campaign.
It is feared dissidents, particularly the Real IRA — which was behind last month’s car bomb bid at the Policing Board headquarters — will escalate their lethal activities over the next few weeks to stage a ‘spectacular’.
Intelligence chiefs have confirmed that dissidents, now thought to number around 700, have access to a store of weapons and explosives and are being helped by disaffected members of the Provisional IRA in their bid to murder members of the security forces.
This latest warning comes after security alerts brought sections of Belfast to a standstill yesterday morning.
Suspect devices were abandoned outside Ulster Bank premises on the Lisburn and University Roads during the early rush hour. Traffic was gridlocked for up to two hours and buses were diverted from one of the city’s busiest arterial routes, causing serious disruption for hundreds of commuters, shoppers and students.
The hoaxes followed a night of violence in Londonderry where pipe-bombs were thrown into two cars. A crowd of between 40 and 50 people then hurled petrol bombs and other missiles at police officers attending the incidents in the Creggan area.
It also emerged yesterday that the dissident threat has forced a top prison official to resign.
Steve Rodford, governor of Maghaberry, stood down from his job after only five months when his home address and car registration details were found in the cell of a dissident republican inmate at the jail.
Last night a PSNI spokesman said: “We would always urge retailers and business owners to keep an eye out for anything suspicious, to review security measures, and to check premises thoroughly before and after trading. Any suspicious object should not be handled — instead police should be contacted immediately.”