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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Dissident threat 'real and growing'
In the wake of the latest bomb attack by dissident republicans, BBC Northern Ireland's chief security correspondent Brian Rowan assesses the risk they pose.

It is their way of getting noticed - their way of demonstrating their opposition to the peace process.

The car bomb in Ealing, and other recent attacks in Northern Ireland, provide confirmation of the threat still posed by dissident republicans.

It is at difficult times in the peace process that they tend to be most active.

And the timing of these latest attacks, when the pro-Agreement parties are being asked to decide on the package presented earlier this week by the British and Irish Governments, is no coincidence.

There has been a steady escalation in dissident violence and the threat they pose is assessed as real and growing

In Northern Ireland, the main focus has been on recent loyalist violence, but in the background the dissidents have been at work and have come very close to killing members of the security forces.

The so-called 'Real' IRA grew out of a split within mainstream republicanism - a fracturing which placed experienced bomb-makers within the ranks of a new dissident group wedded to "armed struggle".

Omagh bomb

But their slaughtering of men, women and children in the main street of the market town of Omagh in County Tyrone in August 1998 shamed them into a ceasefire.

Slowly, the 'Real' IRA re-emerged - first in Northern Ireland and then in London.

At the beginning of last year they placed bombs at security bases, and by June they had carried out their first attack in Britain - a bomb explosion at Hammersmith Bridge in London.

Since then there has been a steady escalation in dissident violence and the threat they pose is assessed as "real and growing".

  • In January this year, a massive roadside bomb was discovered in Armagh. It was packed with more than 1,000lbs of explosives and was designed to ambush the security forces.


  • That same month, a so-called Mark 15 mortar bomb was launched at the sleeping quarters of an army base in Londonderry. It failed to detonate but came very close to doing so. Had it exploded the consequences would have been devastating.

  • By March, the dissidents were again active in London - a car bomb exploded outside the BBC.

  • In June, two police officers were shot and wounded outside a polling station in Draperstown in County Londonderry.

  • And last month there were attacks on security bases at Castlewellan in County Down and at Lurgan in County Armagh.

    In the continuing violence, the dissidents also placed a bomb at Northern Ireland's main airport just days before the latest explosion in London.

    Within the ranks of the dissidents there are experienced terrorists - people who learned their "trade" inside the mainstream IRA.

    The police on both sides of the Irish border have had many successes intercepting bombs and discovering arms dumps.

    But in London there has been no such success. Attacks continue and the identity of those behind them is not known.

    The dissidents pose an obvious threat and through their violence they want to ensure a difficult journey for those on the road to peace.

  • Assembly back

    IRA arms breakthrough


    Loyalist ceasefire





    See also:

    06 May 00 | Northern Ireland
    IRA arms offer
    03 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
    The general who likes to destroy weapons
    08 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
    Talks to revive NI peace process
    08 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
    IRA to renew arms talks
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