17 September 2010
Dissident Irish republicans could attempt to mount a new wave of terrorist attacks on the British mainland, the head of MI5 has warned.
Jonathan Evans, the director-general of the Security Service, said there had been a “persistent rise” in “activity and ambition” by dissident groups in Northern Ireland over the past three years.
While they do not have the capacity to return to the levels of violence caused by the Provisional IRA at the height of the Troubles, he said they still represent “a real and rising security challenge”.
His warning comes after one group, the Real IRA, publicly threatened to target banks and other financial institutions in the City of London, accusing them of “financing Britain’s colonial and capitalist system”.
Speaking on Thursday night to Worshipful Company of Security Professionals in the City, Mr Evans said while MI5’s “main effort” remains focused on international terrorism, it has been necessary to reinforce its presence in Northern Ireland to deal with the heightened threat.
In a wide-ranging address, he highlighted the way the al Qaida threat has diversified – with new centres of extremism emerging in Somalia and Yemen – and the potential that terrorists could target the 2012 London Olympics.
Mr Evans also cautioned that it was “nonsensical” to believe the terrorist threat could be “abolished” and any incident which did occur was the result of a “culpable Government failure”.
On Northern Ireland, he acknowledged the recent rise in activity by dissident republicans had not been foreseen, having been assumed just three years ago to be “low and likely to decline further”.
“Perhaps we were giving insufficient weight to the pattern of history over the last hundred years which shows that whenever the main body of Irish republicanism has reached a political accommodation and rejoined constitutional politics, a hard-liner rejectionist group would fragment off and continue with the so-called ‘armed struggle’,” he said.
Since the start of the year, however, there have been more than 30 attacks or attempted attacks on national security targets by dissident republicans, compared with just over 20 for the whole of last year, he said.