Hardline terrorists seized arsenal before split with IRA over peace process

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The Independent Online

The Real IRA, a breakaway group of hardline republicans, is believed to be responsible for the attack on the MI6 building, in what is the third bombing incident in London so far this year.

The Real IRA, a breakaway group of hardline republicans, is believed to be responsible for the attack on the MI6 building, in what is the third bombing incident in London so far this year.

Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch warned in June that the capital could expect a sustained terror campaign by opponents of the Northern Ireland peace process.

The Real IRA, a small but well-equipped outfit, was always tipped as the most likely force behind any sustained violence. The organisation, which has about 100 members and an active unit in the mainland, emerged several years ago when a handful of senior IRA figures rejected the peace process and broke away.

One of the major figures was the IRA's quartermaster-general, while another was a man skilled in the design and construction of the IRA's homemade weapons.

Before they broke with the mainstream republican leadership they seized weapons from a huge arsenal of weapons and explosives, including rocket launchers, which were held in secret bunkers.

Recruits, many of whom come from the Armagh region of Northern Ireland, which has traditionally been heavily involved in mainland bombing campaigns, are increasing, according to security sources. The group's confidence is also said to be rising, despite the security forces' success in foiling the organisation's bombing attempts and charging a number of suspects.

A security source said yesterday: "Clearly this is an organisation which is becoming more and more aggressive, and confident in what it can achieve and sustain.

"They are boasting the capacity to strike right in the heart of London. They have an overseas team and this is another indication of a force to be reckoned with. What's missing, is their strategy. What is it supposed to be about?"

The group is believed to be responsible for a bomb that exploded on Hammersmith Bridge, west London, on 1 June, causing minor damage but substantial disruption.

Six weeks later another device was found on a railway line at Ealing, west London, and last month false bomb threats were made at three London bridges.

The group bombed Omagh in August 1998, killing 29 people.

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