Belfast Telegraph

The secret war games terrorists can never win

Renegade republicans want to be known for their 'successes'. But their increasing failures are matched only by the sterility of their campaign, says Brian Rowan

A police source, speaking to this newspaper, described a "constant battle" with dissident republicans - much of which is unseen.

That battle includes a mix of security things; both off-stage intelligence operations and visible policing, the two designed to try to stop the different armed groups. It is about spoiling their war plans.

Just last weekend, seven people, including two brothers and a cousin of prominent dissident republican Colin Duffy, appeared in court on a range of charges. Duffy's older brother Paul, is charged with directing terrorism.

It follows a major investigation involving both the police and the Security Service, MI5, whose off-stage role is monitoring, using their gadgetry to watch and listen.

There is always background activity.

Just a few weeks ago, a van-bomb was discovered outside Newry; 600lbs of explosives packed into two barrels and fitted with all its deadly parts.

The van - left with its engine running - was discovered by a member of the public, who contacted the police. One theory was that the vehicle had been abandoned short of its target.

Since then, however, different and more fixed thinking has emerged. "It would appear we were the principal target," a police source confirmed.

The bomb was to be triggered by remote control and this was, in the words of the source, "an attempt to bring us in and detonate". That security operation was something all of us could see, but it is only part of the picture.

"This is fairly constant," the police source said, meaning dissident activity, including the things we don't see.

"It is not something that occurs every six months," he continued. "It's a constant battle."

And it is something else; a reminder of the real dangers in these continuing dissident war games; why the police, in response to a whole range of alerts, need to think carefully about what to do and when to do it.

So, they don't rush in to the trap. They need measured steps.

In this situation the dissident plan did not produce the result they wanted. They would want their 'wars' to be defined by what they would consider their 'successes' - those things that happen as they intend.

In their cold thinking, this is the gun attack on Massereene army barracks, the shooting of police constable Stephen Carroll and the bomb that killed Ronan Kerr.

There were headlines in the bomb attack at Palace Barracks in Holywood, which houses MI5.

These are some of those war 'successes', but again, in this we only see part of the picture. A significant part of the dissident story is what doesn't work - and why. At the start of this year, Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) played a game of cat-and-mouse with soldiers visiting Belfast, before placing a booby-trap bomb inside one of their cars.

It claimed it was a grenade placed under the driver's seat with a trip-wire attached to the seatbelt buckle (police said it was a pipe-bomb). This time the device was discovered and no one was hurt.

A year earlier, in January 2011, also in north Belfast, ONH set a double bomb-trap intended for police. It claimed the presence of a civilian, a woman, stopped them detonating the first device, which had been attached to a command wire running to a firing point.

A second device was found in the follow-up security operation, which ONH again claimed was a grenade on a trip-wire. Police sources described it as a military-type training flare.

So, there is this pattern of things that don't work; bombs that fail to detonate, or only partially explode, or are abandoned for one reason or another. And this is also a significant part of the dissident story; important context when assessing the threat.

It is not just about what they would consider to be their 'successes', but also the 'failures'. Some of it will be because of technical inexperience; at other times because they have been interrupted by security activity. And there will be occasions, such as the example in north Belfast, when they were forced to pause because of civilian presence.

Still, we only have part of the story.

There will be information coming out of the dissident organisations and into the intelligence world that we are not told about. Dissident bombs have been neutralised before being moved and put in place at targets; explosives removed and replaced by another substance in a process known as 'substitution'.

In these war games, these are things we don't see. But there are things we know and the dissidents also know; that these continuing wars cannot be won.

Yes, these organisations have the ability to kill, have done so and will try again. For what purpose?

There are republicans who do not support Sinn Fein, but who remain opposed to any armed struggle. The dissidents should listen to those republicans and explore and find different ways to be heard.

Their bombs won't work and their wars won't work.


From Belfast Telegraph