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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 09:53 GMT
Who are the Real IRA?
The Omagh bombing killed 29 people
Atrocity: The Omagh bombing killed 29 people
The Real IRA has emerged as one of the most dangerous groups opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. BBC News Online looks at the dissident republican group and its activities over the last four years.

Who are the Real IRA?

The group was born out of a split in the mainstream Provisional IRA in October 1997, when the IRA's so-called quartermaster-general resigned over Sinn Fein's direction in the peace process.

Security forces estimate that the Real IRA's membership is between 100 and 200.

It is thought to have access to Provisional IRA explosives and detonators. Some of its members were leading IRA bomb-makers.

The Real IRA quickly took over from the older Continuity IRA as the leading home for dissidents, and the security forces believe the two organisations have co-operated in a number of attacks.

Several arms finds have uncovered weapons from Eastern Europe which were believed to be heading to the Real IRA in Northern Ireland.

What attacks have been linked to the Real IRA?

The Real IRA carried out the worst single atrocity of over 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland when it bombed the County Tyrone town of Omagh, killing 29 people, in August 1998.

Over the past 16 months, more than 27 explosions, booby traps, shootings and arms finds in Northern Ireland and six attacks in London have been attributed to the Real IRA.

It has also carried out a campaign of so-called "barrack buster attacks" on military and police bases.

Large mortars - some of which are crude and inaccurate, but all potentially deadly - have been fired at several bases in Armagh, Tyrone and Londonderry.

Attacks in London, linked to the group, have included a bomb attack on Hammersmith Bridge, explosions at BBC Television Centre and MI6 headquarters, a series of bomb attacks on a north London postal depot and an explosion in Ealing Broadway, in August 2001.

Police suspect the explosion in Birmingham was the work of an Irish republican dissident group, and the Real IRA is likely to be the focus of their attention.

Other paramilitary groups have declared ceasefires. Have the Real IRA?

The Real IRA declared a ceasefire after public condemnation over the Omagh atrocity in 1998, but re-emerged in February of last year.

Since then there has been a steady escalation in attacks in Northern Ireland and Britain.

In June last year, the Real IRA launched its first attack in London when it bombed Hammersmith Bridge.

The Metropolitan Police in London warned of a planned bombing campaign by the Real IRA in Britain to coincide with the general election earlier this year.

The Ealing car bomb blast was the most recent attack blamed on this group, and the explosion in Birmingham will again raise fears that the Real IRA is starting a new phase in its campaign of violence.

Links to more Northern Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.

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Links to more Northern Ireland stories