Dissident republicans including Real IRA unite for 'armed struggle' in Northern Ireland

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A collection of dangerous dissident republican factions in Northern Ireland yesterday announced they were coming together under a single leadership to combine their sporadic campaigns of violence.

Two recognised organisations, the Real IRA and Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), said they would co-operate with an assortment of smaller groupings to carry on "armed struggle."

The Real IRA has been in existence since the 1990s, when it was responsible for the Omagh bombing which killed 29 people in the County Tyrone town. RAAD has emerged in recent years in Londonderry, where its original declared purpose was to take violent action against those allegedly involved in the city's drugs trade.

Most of the smaller groups aligned in the new arrangement have no formal name, though some have adopted the traditional republican title of Irish Republican Army. The leaders of the new combination style themselves "IRA army council" in imitation of the title previously used by the now-defunct mainstream IRA.

Their statement said: "Following extensive consultations, Irish republicans and a number of organisations involved in armed actions against the armed forces of the British crown have come together within a unified structure, under a single leadership."

Security sources last night appeared reasonably relaxed about the new development, with no obvious nervousness that it would lead to an upsurge of violence.

While the violent dissidents have been on the go since the 1990s, they have been largely kept in check in the past few years as the police, Army and MI5 have devoted significant extra resources to maintaining surveillance on them.

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