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Why is Britain worried about a terrorist attack from the North?

The British government has said that there is a “strong possibility” of a terrorist attack from a dissident republican group.

Britain Guns File photo of armed police pictured in London in December last year AP Photo / Matt Dunham, File AP Photo / Matt Dunham, File / Matt Dunham, File

YESTERDAY THE UK announced that the possibility of an attack on mainland Great Britain by dissident republicans had gone from “moderate” to “substantial”.

The threat level – set by security service MI5 – is now at its highest point in five years.

It has been 15 years since the last terrorist attack on mainland UK, when dissident republicans were blamed for an explosion under Hammersmith Bridge in the west of London.

In a statement yesterday, the British Home Office said:

The Security Service, MI5, has increased the threat level to Great Britain from Northern Ireland-related terrorism from moderate to substantial. This means that a terrorist attack is a strong possibility and reflects the continuing threat from dissident republican activity.

The raising of the threat level comes after a spate of activity by dissident republicans, with a group called the New IRA at the centre of most of this.

Who are the New IRA?

Last October the British government produced a document looking at paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, carried out after revelations that Provisional IRA structures may still have been in place.

The report identified three dissident republican groups as posing a serious terrorist threat: Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Continuity IRA, and most prominently, the so-called ‘New IRA’.

1916 Easter Rising commemorationA republican commemoration parade for the Easter Rising in Belfast earlier this yearSource: Peter Morrison/PA Wire

The New IRA was formed in 2012 following the amalgamation of a number of other dissident republican outfits, including the Real IRA and Republican Action Against Drugs.

Why is this happening now?

Ahead of the 1916 Centenary celebrations the group emerged as a major concern for security forces north and south of the border, with the PSNI warning that dissidents planned to mark the occasion by killing police officers.

While there was no major incident connected to the 1916 celebrations, in March the group claimed responsibility for the murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay in Belfast.

Last month it was blamed for badly injuring a man in a paramilitary-style punishment shooting in Derry, and there has been speculation that it was connected to the shooting of three people in a 24-hour period in west Belfast earlier this week.

adriana ismay Prison officer Adrian Ismay PSNI PSNI

The violence is also playing out south of the border.

Earlier this year it was believed that the Continuity IRA (CIRA) was involved in the Dublin gangland shooting attack at the Regency Hotel; last month Michael Barr - believed to have been a senior figure in the dissident republican movement - was shot dead in a pub in Dublin.  

Fourteen men were later arrested at his paramilitary-style funeral in Strabane in Co Tyrone.

PastedImage-13405 North West News Group / Strabane Chronicle/PA Images North West News Group / Strabane Chronicle/PA Images / Strabane Chronicle/PA Images

Commenting yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May was keen to highlight emphasis how the groups are viewed in Northern Ireland.

"The reality is that they command little support," she said.

They do not represent the views or wishes of the vast majority of people, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, who decisively expressed their desire for peace in the 1998 Belfast Agreement and have been transforming Northern Ireland ever since.

In a statement to yesterdaythe Department of Justice said "the threat of terrorist attacks by these groups in this jurisdiction is low and there has not been any change to that".

Read: Dissident republicans want to mark Easter Rising by ‘killing police officers’ – PSNI

Also: UK security services signal 'strong possibility' of dissident Republican attack in Britain

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