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Young recruits 'swell NI terror ranks'

Dissident republican groups are getting bigger, more dangerous and are being helped by former members of the mainstream IRA, the International Monitoring Commission said today.

The IMC said the threat from the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA has been bolstered by an influx of young men and some ex-Provos.

The report comes as dissidents are being blamed for two more brutal paramilitary attacks in republican areas of Londonderry and Belfast.

This threat was underlined today when an armed gang held three teenagers at gunpoint while they shot a 23-year-old man five times in Derry. In Belfast 24-year-old man was shot in his Rosnareen Road home.

Former members of the IRA, said the report, were assisting dissident republicans to carry out their campaign of violence, helping to make the organisations more dangerous than ever before.

That assessment by the Independent Monitoring Commission underscores what Secretary of State Shaun Woodward has described as the “real” and “current” threat.

Today’s report follows the murders in March of two soldiers at Massereene Barracks and a police officer in Craigavon as well as the more recent bomb incidents in Forkhill and east and north Belfast.

The IMC reports: “In our detailed analysis we comment on the apparent growth of RIRA (Real IRA) and CIRA (Continuity IRA) as a result of recruitment. The majority of new recruits are inexperienced young males.

“There are however now indications that former republican terrorists have as individuals provided services in some instances to dissident republican groups, which even if occasional can significantly add to the threat.”

The Independent Monitoring Commission went on to report: “A small number of former PIRA members have given assistance to dissident republicans. This is not surprising following the dissolution of PIRA’s structures.”

The question here is whether those “services” provided include bomb-making expertise.

A roadside bomb that was intended for an attack on police in Forkhill recently was described by a senior security source as “a pretty classic PIRA landmine device”.

The IMC reports the overall level of dissident activity to be “markedly higher than we have seen since we first met in late 2003”.

“The seriousness, range and tempo of their activities all changed for the worse in these six months,” the commission reports.

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward said the report is the most significant by the body since its assessment confirming that the IRA “had gone out of business”.

“This report should be essential reading for every politician in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The IMC has analysed the real current threat posed by dissident republicans.

“Importantly it also offers a solution to deal with the threat by the early devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly and the Executive.”

The IMC believes such a move would show that this issue is no longer “a point of contention across the political divide; rather it would be a platform for cooperation against those trying to undermine the peace process”.

This report by the monitoring commission follows recent warnings by senior security sources that the dissidents have “upped their operational tempo” and are “fixated on targeting and attack planning”.

The organisations are getting bigger, but more worrying is the expertise on offer to them from former members of the IRA.

That expertise particularly in bomb making will add significantly to the threat of the dissidents.

* Source: The Belfast Telegraph