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Scale of dissident republican threat a serious concern

A week on from the dastardly attempt to kill a prison officer in east Belfast and the PSNI has given a sense of the scale of the threat posed by dissident republicans.

The `IRA' claimed responsibility for the attack which left a 52-year-old father of three with serious leg injuries, saying it had used the explosive Semtex, a commercial detonator and a mercury tilt switch.

The booby trap bomb is believed to have fallen from the officer's van when it hit a speed bump and this is likely to have saved the man's life.

In the aftermath of this horrific crime, a senior PSNI officer warned that dissidents planned to kill police and prison officers around the period of the Easter Rising commemorations.

Now Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr has said that police are stopping three or four planned attacks for every one that the dissidents manage to pull off.

ACC Kerr also revealed there were a `few hundred' active dissidents who are involved in operations but that a much smaller number with `very significant terrorist experience' are in leadership roles and directing attacks.

While the senior officer stressed that the capability of the dissidents is not on the scale of paramilitary groups in the past, there may be some surprise at the fact that hundreds are active in the dissident ranks.

Many people would have had the impression that while clearly dangerous, these groups had little support and consisted in the main of a small hardcore of violent extremists.

Mr Kerr did express concern at the widening attack capabilities of these groups, which ranged from car bombs to rocket fired grenades.

We know that the device planted under the prison officer's vehicle last week showed a degree of sophistication and it was only by chance that it fell off, lessening its lethal force on detonation.

We have to be thankful that police have foiled recent attacks but it is alarming that these groups and individuals remain intent on causing death and injury.

Mr Kerr underlined the importance of intelligence in the fight against paramilitaries and said there needed to be a change in mindset to encourage more people to come forward with information.

Certainly, anyone who can help the police stop gun and bomb attacks has a responsibility to pass on information.

These groups not only pose a threat to members of the PSNI and prison service, they threaten the entire community and efforts to build a peaceful and stable society.

They belong to the past while the vast majority of people look to a future free from the fear of being shot or blown up.

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