Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Saturday, 19 September 2009 17:45 UK

PSNI step up dissident crackdown

Police officer on guard
The number of patrols and checkpoints is being stepped up

Police in Northern Ireland have begun what is being described as a major operation aimed at disrupting potential dissident republican activity.

Operation Dissent, which began at 1900 BST on Friday, will result in more police patrols and checkpoints in some areas across Northern Ireland.

New Chief Constable Matt Baggott takes over the reins of the PSNI on Tuesday.

It is understood senior police officers fear dissident republicans will attempt to mark his arrival with an attack.

The operation began as a second night of dissident-inspired rioting was getting under way in the County Armagh town of Lurgan.

Vans were hijacked and burnt on the main Belfast to Dublin railway line during trouble sparked by the jailing of three local men over a dissident republican mortar bomb plot to murder police.

In a statement, police said they would put a "high visibility" operation in place across Northern Ireland "following a recent increase in dissident republican activity".

'Murderous intent'

The PSNI said the operation would take place at a "variety of places and times".

"In addition to countering what police believe is an increase in threat from dissident republicans, the operation is designed to also prevent and detect travelling criminals and also influence driver behaviour, particularly in rural areas where there have been a number of tragic fatal crashes in recent weeks," the statement added.

"Police apologise in advance for the inconvenience this operation will cause, but seek the public's patience and support in what we believe is a necessary step to prevent those with murderous intent going about their business."

Matt Baggott
Matt Baggott begins his new job as PSNI chief constable on Tuesday

Last week, a 600lb bomb was defused at Forkhill in south Armagh, a device which police said was designed to kill its officers.

BBC reporter Natasha Sayee said there were fears among senior police officers that dissidents were planning a "spectacular attack" ahead of Mr Baggott's arrival.

Northern Ireland's watchdog on paramilitary activity, the Independent Monitoring Commission, said in May that the dissident threat was higher than at any time in the past five years.

Two months earlier, the dissident republican Real IRA killed two soldiers outside an Army base in Antrim, while later that month the Continuity IRA shot dead a policeman in Craigavon.

In January, a 300lb bomb was defused in Castlewellan, County Down. It is thought it was planted by dissident republicans trying to target the Ballykinler army base.

In May, the component parts of another fertiliser bomb were found near Rosslea in County Fermanagh.

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