School evacuated as MI5 warns of growing threat from former IRA men

Big rise in bomb attacks in Northern Ireland, as security sources say dissident republicans plan 'spectacular' attack on mainland

A group of former Provisional IRA bombmakers are believed to have joined dissident republicans to play a key part in the dramatic rise in the number of attacks in Northern Ireland, according to security and military sources.



The new threat comes as the head of MI5 revealed that his service now has to deal with "more life-threatening investigations" in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK. The increased violence has meant that the number of agents in the province needed to be boosted by a third, with tightly stretched resources moved from operations against Islamist terrorists.

The escalation of violence in Ulster comes at a particularly difficult time for the security and intelligence services. There has been no respite in the activities of al-Qa'ida and its associates. Meanwhile, the agencies face economic constraints along with other government departments.

There have been 49 bombings in Northern Ireland in the first eight months of this year, compared with 22 in the whole of 2009, and many of the devices show a new level of expertise and sophistication.

Bill Clinton, who helped to broker the Good Friday Agreement when he was US President, is to revisit Belfast next month in a fact-finding trip on the fraying security situation.

A primary school in Antrim sent 400 pupils home yesterday after an eight-year-old boy carried a pipe bomb into class. Loyalist splinter group the Real UFF has been blamed for leaving the device. Headmaster Hilary Cush said: "It's absolutely crazy, it's unbelievable that innocent children should be caught up in something like this."

Some of the materials used in the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are believed to be from stockpiles gathered in the early 1990s, including Semtex boosters which should have been destroyed under the decommissioning terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The scale of the problem was revealed by Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, who told the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee: "What was not anticipated ... was the way in which the situation in Northern Ireland had deteriorated. The Service had considerably more what we would call priority, that is life-threatening, investigations in Northern Ireland than we do in the rest of Great Britain."

In response, MI5 has increased its resources in Ulster from 13 per cent to 18 per cent. Officials say this may have to rise again if the security situation continues to deteriorate.

It was claimed last month that the dissident groups were preparing to carry their campaign into mainland UK with a possible "spectacular" aimed at this autumn's Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

Patrick Mercer, former chairman of the Commons Sub-committee on Counter-Terrorism, maintained: "There are three groups which are planning to do something to catapult themselves into the headlines before the party conference season. They wish to kill ... They have an aspiration to attack targets on the mainland, including the Conservative Party conference."

Yesterday Mr Mercer said that the dissident groups may have obtained commercial explosives from the Balkans. He added: "What appears to have happened is that hardline republicans who could never be brought to the negotiating table had been sitting on their hands for the last 10 years waiting for the moment to rejoin their war."

Security officials stressed that there was no evidence that either Sinn Fein or the former Provisional IRA leadership are supporting the dissidents. A Whitehall source said: "In the past, PIRA [Provisional IRA] may have taken punitive action against those who are doing this. But they haven't and we should be thankful for that because the last thing we want is a civil war between the Nationalists on top of everything else. But it is the case now that those who are joining the dissidents have less fear of PIRA sanctions.

"There is no evidence that the PIRA leadership connived at some material which should have been decommissioned falling into the hands of the breakaway factions. But that is what appears to have happened."

The three main dissident groups – the Continuity IRA, Real IRA and Oglaigh Na Heireann – have lost many of their senior activists to arrests and convictions. The ranks have been replaced to an extent by young recruits from the nationalist community disillusioned with the peace process and limited employment prospects. But, security forces point out, they cannot bring the expertise provided by those who had been long involved in the campaigns of the Troubles.

As well as IEDs the breakaway nationalists have used "proxy bombs" – hijacking taxis which have access to security installations and forcing drivers to transport explosive devices. A 150lb device was used in a blast at the entrance of MI5 headquarters at Palace Barracks in Holywood. A 250lb bomb went off outside a police station in Derry.

In an interview with the Irish News, a member of Oglaigh Na Heireann claimed: "There are members of our organisation who came from within the ranks of the IRA and had sat back and given Sinn Fein breathing space to make the [Good Friday] Agreement work and achieve their goals. That didn't happen.

"Before we embarked on a campaign we set about acquiring arms and explosives. As the recent upsurge shows, we have the material required to carry out the campaign we have envisaged. It's OK for people to say we don't have the capability. A year ago they said we couldn't even detonate a bomb."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software / Web Developer - ASP.NET

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company produces a wide ra...

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones