This period has seen further developments in attacks against the security establishment in Northern Ireland, as predicted in our most recent reports. The most significant event in this period occurred on 26 November, when a come-on attack saw a pipe bomb thrown at PSNI officers attending a (hoax) burglary report. The incident occurred in Culmore Gardens, in a predominantly Catholic area in West Belfast, and the device was viable although it did not explode. The tactic is in line with previous attempts of this kind, although the fact that this was in a residential area seems to have aroused greater than usual condemnation. Our last report covered the fact that dissident Republicans were planning “something big” in the area; it is not clear if this attack was related to that report. However, if this was indeed that operation, it represents a serious drop in aspirations, perhaps indicating how far dissident capability has been eroded.
Meanwhile, some further details have emerged on the under-car device found on the road in West Belfast on 12 November, reported last time. This is now assessed to have been targeting a vehicle belonging to a soldier, and was probably planted between Wednesday 7 November and Saturday 10 November. The device is again being described as viable, although it did not explode and was clearly imperfect. Taken together, these incidents reinforce our previous assessment that the killing of prison officer David Black would prompt an upswing in attempts to target members of the security forces. We continue to consider that the New IRA grouping formed in July is now the single main threat actor, mainly around Londonderry and West Belfast, although the scattered dissident cells that merged with the Real IRA to form the new group mean that there are many other pockets of capability around Northern Ireland. This view is shared by the Ulster Unionist Party, with representatives in this period making known their concerns over the security implications of the New IRA, including in meetings with PSNI. In regards to capability, the use of firearms and small explosive devices remain most probable, and there has not been evidence of larger devices in the last few months. Although we assess that some bomb makers are still at large, this nonetheless may reflect the effects of pressure in the Irish Republic, which we believe has resulted in the necessary supply chains being interdicted.
Given the current levels of capability being shown, security challenges are likely to continue in 2013. This is a key year for Northern Ireland, with Derry seeing number of festivals and celebrations; the G8 conference seeing a number of influential and prominent visitors; and the World Police and Fire Games. More immediate flashpoints include the release of the review into the controversial killing of Republican solicitor Pat Finucane, due on 12 December. Finucane’s murder in 1989 is possibly one of the most controversial of the troubles, with allegations that paramilitaries and the British establishment colluded in the action. Although the review has been welcomed by many others are still demanding a full public enquiry, meaning that this may remain an issue for some time. Similarly,
Investigations into previous attacks on the security forces have also progressed in this period. Police investigating the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr made two arrests of men from Omagh, the Co Tyrone town where the officer was killed in April last year (although both were later released). One of the men was in Milton Keynes, and previous investigations have resulted in other arrests on the mainland. This potentially reinforces how, despite the recent lowering of the alert state on the mainland reported last time, tangible networks seem still to exist; this offers the capability for the movement of people and resources and the reconnaissance of potential targets, albeit we consider the risk of any serious action still to be extremely low.