Downgrade in dissident threat level to Britain

Thu, Oct 25, 2012, 01:00

THE MI5 threat level from dissident republicans to Britain has been reduced from “substantial” to “moderate” but remains at the higher “severe” level in Northern Ireland, the British home office has disclosed.

The British home secretary Theresa May maintained a distinction between threat levels from dissidents in Britain and from international terrorism. The dissident threat was downgraded from “substantial”, which means an attack is a strong possibility, to “moderate”, which means an attack is possible “but not likely”.

But the threat from al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups is to remain at “substantial”.

“The threat level to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland-related terrorism remains at severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely,” said Ms May.

Reducing the dissident level to moderate in Britain indicates that previous fears of attacks are now diminishing.

There had been concerns that dissidents would attempt to cause disruption to the Olympics, Paralympics and Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee celebrations.

The decision to downgrade the threat level was made on advice by MI5.

The British intelligence agency operates with five levels of threat, ranging from “low” to “critical”, which means an attack is imminent.

The fact that the threat in Northern Ireland remains at severe caused no surprise. The PSNI remains on high alert against attacks from dissident republicans, a concern increased by the link-up in the summer between the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and previously non-aligned republicans operating mostly in the Lurgan area.

The other main groups are Óglaigh na hÉireann and the Continuity IRA. It is estimated the various organisations have a membership of about 600-700. There were 19 dissident attacks in the North this year.

North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds, while welcoming the MI5 decision on threat levels in Britain, warned there must be “no lowering of our guard and no reduction in security”.

He noted the continuing severe threat in Northern Ireland, adding: “I am concerned that announcements about lowering the threat level from dissidents may actually be counterproductive. Indeed, such statements could encourage these backward elements to use such a downgrade to prove a point about their capability and presence.”

Mr Dodds, speaking in the House of Commons, said it was essential that the British government look favourably on any future request for additional funding to help tackle the dissidents in Northern Ireland.

The new Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers gave assurances that the British security services “would continue to be vigilant in the face of the continuing threat”.