Northern Ireland embarked Friday on a tense few days amid a severe terror threat alert covering Easter and the 25th Good Friday peace agreement anniversary against a backdrop of effectively being without a government. The Stormont Assembly has not sat since February 2022. File Photo by Mark Marlow/EPA-EFE
April 7 (UPI) -- Authorities in Northern Ireland are warning that dissident Republicans could exploit the coming events of the Easter period and the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement to stir unrest and launch attacks.
Police Service Northern Ireland Chief Constable Simon Byre told a public policing board meeting that he feared security forces would be the targets.
"The main focus of these attacks continues to be police officers, both on and off duty, and their families as well as prison officers and military personnel. The style of attack we're dealing with and trying to frustrate is gun attack and bomb attacks on these people by a small number of determined dissident terrorists," Byrne told the meeting Thursday.
Last month, the British intelligence agency MI5 raised the terrorism level in Northern Ireland to "severe," indicating the possibility of a terrorist attack was "highly likely."
In response to the threat, Byrne said the force would be operating on a counter-terror footing for the next 10 days involving officers working 12 hours shifts and personnel being moved from administrative to active duty.
He said that with at least 90 notified parades and events and possibly many more authorities are not aware of, he was concerned about provocative para-military displays of uniform and weapons that could be used to lure police into ambushes.
The concern comes after a senior off-duty officer was shot multiple times in front of his son by two gunmen in Omagh, 68 miles west of Belfast in February. He survived but suffered life-changing injuries. Four men were arrested in connection with the attack under the Terrorism Act.
Investigators said at the time they were concentrating on "violent dissident republicans and within that, there is a primary focus as well on New IRA."
U.S. President Joe Biden is due to arrive in Northern Ireland on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the Belfast peace agreement which ended the three-decade-long "troubles" in which more than 3,500 people died.
However, the president's itinerary is restricted to just one official engagement -- a visit to open a new campus at Belfast's Ulster University -- due to the political situation, rather than security concerns.
Biden had been invited to address the country's assembly at Stormont but the power-sharing government has not sat for the past 14 months after the Democratic Unionist Party refused to continue to participate in a row of post-Brexit trading arrangements.