Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Sunday, 15 March 2009

Number of Irish dissidents 'tiny'

Sir Hugh Orde: 'We have fully mobilised against it... arrests have been made'

Police say the number of republican dissidents trying to wreck the Northern Ireland peace process is about 300.

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde told the BBC that intelligence clearly showed the numbers intent on violence was a tiny proportion of the population.

His comments came after three members of the security forces were killed in two separate attacks one week ago.

Nine people have now been arrested over the murders of a policeman in Craigavon and two soldiers in Antrim.

Two people were arrested on Saturday over the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll, 48, who was shot while on duty in Craigavon, County Armagh, on Monday.

The man, 37, and woman, 30, were arrested in the town in connection with "serious terrorist crime", taking the number of people being held to five.

Detectives were granted a five day extension on Sunday to interview a 21-year-old man arrested on Friday in connection with the investigation into Constable Carroll's murder.

A fourth man was arrested over the murders of soldiers Mark Quinsey, 23, from Birmingham, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, from London, who were shot dead at Massereene barracks in Antrim last Saturday.

The man was arrested on Saturday night in the Antrim area.

Detectives revisited the scene of the soldiers' murders on Saturday night.

Detective Superintendent Peter Farrar appealed for the driver of a horse lorry, which passed Massereene shortly before the shooting, on the Randalstown Road, to contact police.

"We strongly believe that the blue/green Vauxhall Cavalier, TDZ 7309, that was used by the killers to attack the barracks, may have overtaken this lorry," he said.

The detective also called for anyone who was in an industrial estate opposite the base last Saturday night to get in touch.

Det Supt Farrar said the killers had made an unsuccessful attempt to burn-out the getaway car after the murders.

"As a result, we now have a number of forensic opportunities that we are exploring," he said.

Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist clergy held special services on Sunday where church leaders asked people to wear purple ribbons in protest at the recent murders.

There were also prayers for an end to violence.

'Very dangerous'

Sir Hugh told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "Of course, the threat is very dangerous, that's been evidenced in the last week, but it's a very small group.

"Three hundred people in a population of 1.7m people puts it in perspective but it's a threat we take seriously.

"We have mobilised against it and as you've seen arrests have been made."

He rejected "ridiculous" media stories that attacks on politicians elsewhere in the UK were being hatched.

Youths
Police were attacked in Lurgan

His main focus, he said, was very much in Northern Ireland, where police officers and security services remained the main targets.

And he had no intention of asking for military back-up, he said.

Meanwhile, police investigating the murder of two soldiers have come under petrol bomb attack from rioters in Lurgan.

One officer was injured when he was hit on the arm with a brick. Two teenagers were arrested.

On Sunday, a security alert in the Allenhill Park area of Lurgan was declared a hoax. Two controlled explosions were carried out.

Police had been carrying out searches in Lurgan where prominent republican Colin Duffy was earlier arrested over the killings. He is still being questioned.



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