Dissidents 'to target' Tory conference


Republican dissidents behind a string of bomb attacks in Northern Ireland are targeting the Conservative Party conference this autumn, a British MP warned today.

Ex-soldier Patrick Mercer said former colleagues had told him several groups wanted to “catapult themselves into the headlines” by attacking targets in Britain.

The warning comes amid a recent upsurge of violence and bomb incidents in recent weeks, including outside police stations and against security force personnel.

Mr Mercer, former chairman of the Commons subcommittee on counter-terrorism, told the BBC: “Over the last three or four weeks there have been several very determined efforts to kill in Northern Ireland.

“There are three groups in Northern Ireland which are planning to do something to catapult themselves into the headlines before the party conference season.

“They wish to kill by the end of the month. They have an aspiration to attack targets in Britain, including the Conservative Party conference.”

The MP, who served in Northern Ireland, said the intelligence came from people he used to serve with.

Asked how likely an attack was at the conference in Birmingham in October, Mr Mercer added: “I don’t believe these groups are capable of carrying out attacks on the mainland at the moment, but they would like to.”

Earlier this month a police station guard escaped unharmed after a car bomb partially exploded as he drove to work through a busy residential area.

Three children were also injured in Lurgan last week after a device exploded in a wheelie bin as police searched part of the town. It is believed to have been an attempt to lure officers into a trap.

And several police stations have also been targeted, including Strand Road in Derry to where a 200lb bomb was driven by a hijacked taxi driver.

Officers were evacuating the area when the device exploded, causing damage to the heavily fortified station, plus surrounding buildings including a nursing home and apartments.

Assistant chief constable Drew Harris said the dissident threat remained high, with more than 30 attacks recorded so far this year. But the senior officer said police had made 147 arrests in 2010, resulting in 38 charges, compared with 19 charges last year.

Laurence Robertson, the Conservative chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, said suggestions of an attack on the mainland were “extremely worrying”.

He told The Observer newspaper: “So far it has been contained to the province but whether it is there or on the mainland it is very worrying.

“We hope it is not yet another chapter but it could be and has to be dealt with.”