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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
News
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
people
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil