Bombs and death threats: dissidents step up efforts to derail power-sharing: Landmine was aimed at killing police officers Security fears at level of 1998, year of Omagh bomb (Ireland)
It was a huge landmine with a substantial amount of homemade explosive that lacked one critical element - a plastic explosive booster such as Semtex.The device, used by insurgent groups across the world from Helmand province in Afghanistan to southern Iraq, was designed to kill two police officers in Co Fermanagh who had been lured into the area. But the men survived because a commercial detonator only partly triggered the mine. Had it been set off by something as effective as Semtex, both officers would have been killed, security sources say.
The use of the landmine on June 14 and its location were highly significant: Rosslea in Co Fermanagh has been the scene of several republican attacks over the past 40 years.
In 1989 the Provisional IRA almost destroyed a British army base near the border village using a van bomb, two heavy machine guns, half a dozen assault rifles and a flamethrower. Two soldiers from the King's Own Scottish Borderers died in the initial attack. Throughout the Troubles the Pira's East Tyrone brigade targeted police and troops based in and around the same area.
The latest effort to kill members of the security forces in Rosslea was the first republican landmine attack since the Pira's ceasefire 14 years ago and marked an escalation in the dissident campaign to derail the political settlement between unionism and republicanism at Stormont.
Aside from trying to ambush mobile police patrols, the dissidents are also targeting Catholic recruits to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Last November the Real IRA shot and wounded Jim Doherty, a Catholic recruit to the PSNI who originally came from the republican Bogside area of Derry. He was fired on while he was taking his son to school. Less than a week later the same organisation attempted to shoot another Catholic policeman outside Dungannon police station in Co Tyrone.
According to senior PSNI sources, the dissidents have continued to target Catholic recruits to try to intimidate people from the nationalist community joining the police. A number of officers have been forced to relocate elsewhere because intelligence reports showed that their movements and those of their families were being monitored.
The chief constable, Sir Hugh Orde, Stormont minister Jeffrey Donaldson and Irish security officials all agree that the threat from dissident factions is back to the level of the summer of 1998 - the year of the Omagh bomb atrocity, which killed 29 people.
Dissidents have also widened their target to include prison officers. The local branch of the Prison Officers' Association said last week that a number of members are living under death threats.
Finlay Spratt, the POA's chairman in Northern Ireland, said: "We have had threats against our members right up to last week. There were three officers who were targeted. Obviously they were given a choice to move home or at least secure their homes better. These dissidents are targeting prison officers, there is no question about that. These threats apply to all members, both Protestant and Catholic."
All this has prompted the security service - MI5 - to intensify the secret electronic war against the dissidents.
MI5 is currently devoting much of its hi-tech spying resources on only 80 republican activists.
The threat to power-sharing and the new policing regime is so severe that 60% more time is spent eavesdropping on republican terror groups than on all the phone taps and secret technical operations against suspected al-Qaida cells in the UK. The director general of MI5, Jonathan Evans - a veteran of anti-terrorist operations in Northern Ireland - said earlier this year that at least 2,000 suspected Islamist terrorists were being watched. The security service said a hard core of around 500 people were suspected of involvement in at least 80 separate terror plots.
MI5 has a large regional headquarters in Holywood on the eastern outskirts of Belfast. Up to 400 intelligence agents, many of them linguists, work at the centre, which focuses mainly on decoding and eavesdropping on telephone and email traffic from suspected Islamists. A smaller number work with the PSNI in countering republican groups.
In addition, MI6 has been busy trying to thwart dissident republican arms networks abroad. Earlier this year MI6 officers claimed they had broken up a potential arms route from Lithuania, which led to the arrest of Michael Campbell, whose brother Liam has served two prison sentences for Real IRA activities. The 36-year-old was arrested in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, last January. He stands accused of attempting to procure arms and explosives for the Real IRA.
Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland secretary, has insisted that once the final piece of the devolution jigsaw is put in place - the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to the Stormont assembly - it will have a debilitating effect politically on the dissident forces.
"I don't think it is by chance that we're seeing more dissident violence than we have at any time over the last four to five years," he said. "They think their time is running out and they're right, their time is running out because they don't belong in the new Northern Ireland."
Even the most sceptical unionists say it is only a question of when local political leaders take control of the PSNI and the judiciary in Northern Ireland. This would open the way for a Sinn Fein minister overseeing policing or the courts system.
In turn this opens up the prospect of the armed dissident republican groups being directly at war for the first time in history with mainstream republicans administrating security policy in Northern Ireland.
Von: 28.07.2008, www.icbl.org