Renegade republican group will be prime suspects

Attack on MI6: Dissident terrorists may not have many supporters, but members are well-equipped to mount campaign
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The Independent Online

The prime Irish suspects for the MI6 attack will be the Real IRA, the renegade republican group which was responsible for the bomb that killed 29 people in Omagh, County Tyrone, just over two years ago.

The prime Irish suspects for the MI6 attack will be the Real IRA, the renegade republican group which was responsible for the bomb that killed 29 people in Omagh, County Tyrone, just over two years ago.

Although the Omagh attack was followed by fierce condemnation from around the world, the group not only remained in existence but in recent months has managed to escalate its campaign.

While most of its activities have taken place within Northern Ireland, there have been several attempts to carry the campaign to Britain. Republican organisations have always been aware that attacks in London generate far more attention than incidents in Northern Ireland.

In this instance, the MI6 building offered a prestige target, with any even half-successful attack being certain to produce huge publicity at home and abroad. Although the intelligence organisation is sometimes mentioned in reporting on Northern Ireland, its sister organisation, MI5, figures much more often in terms of operating against Republican groups.

MI5 is certainly to the fore in intelligence-gathering and surveillance on Republican subjects, in particular in England, but the MI6 building provided such a choice target that it may have proved irresistible to the Real IRA.

Although the exact method of attack was not immediately known, the Real IRA has launched a number of mortar attacks in recent months.

The most recent took place a week ago when a device was fired into an RUC station in Armagh from a van parked on a building site beside the base. No serious injuries were caused when it exploded inside a perimeter fence, but a number of police officers and civilians were treated for shock.

The Real IRA emerged several years ago when a handful of senior IRA figures took exception to the Republican movement's involvement in the peace process. The numbers involved were small, but they included some big figures.

One of them was the IRA's quarter-master general, while another was an important man in the "engineering department," who was skilled in the design and construction of the IRA's assortment of home-made but deadly weapons.

Among the recruits to the Real IRA were a number of members of the IRA in the south Armagh region, which has traditionally been heavily involved in campaigns of violence in England. The group is minuscule compared to the IRA itself but, with IRA technology at its disposal, it has become clear that even a small number of activists can cause considerable damage and disruption.

The security forces on both sides of the border have had considerable success against the Real IRA, repeatedly foiling bombing attempts and charging a number of suspects with serious offences.

However, although large numbers of security and intelligence personnel are involved in anti-Real IRA activities, some of its attacks still get through.

Both the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Irish police, the Gardai, have warned that the Real IRA and a similar organisation, the Continuity IRA, are trying to step up their activities.

No fatalities have been attributed to either group this year. However, of the nine deaths during the year, eight have been the work of loyalist rather than Republican organisations.

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