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The Government has just announced that MI5 has raised the terror threat level for Northern Ireland from ‘Substantial’ to ‘Severe’. The move means a terror threat is now “highly likely”, rather than just “likely”.
The Northern Ireland Office announced the news, with Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris saying the threat level is “constantly monitored” and is subject to “regular formal review”.
He clarified that the decision to change the threat level is taken by MI5, independently of ministers.
Mr Heaton-Harris said the public should remain vigilant “but not be alarmed”, and encouraged residents to report any concerns they have to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State said that in recent months “we have seen an increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland Related Terrorism, which has targeted police officers serving their communities and also put at risk the lives of children and other members of the public”.
“These attacks have no support, as demonstrated by the reaction to the abhorrent attempted murder of DCI Caldwell.”
Mr Heaton-Harris added, “I pay tribute to the tremendous efforts of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and security partners”
“and the determination and resilience of the Northern Ireland people, who are making Northern Ireland a safer place to live and work.
“The political future of Northern Ireland rests with the democratic will of the people and not the violent actions of the few.
“Together we will ensure there is no return to the violence of the past.”
Today’s change to Northern Ireland’s terror threat reverses last year’s downgrade, which was the first change in 12 years.
In February, 48-year-old Deputy Chief Inspector John Caldwell was shot multiple times by two gunmen while off-duty and coach a youth football group.
The dissident group the New IRA admitted responsibility for the attack.
Two smaller groups, the Continuity IRA and Arm na Poblachta (ANP), are also active.
MI5 is believed to review the terror threat level every six months, with the levels ranging from “Low” to “Critical”.
Northern Ireland’s new level of “Very likely” is one lower than the highest “Critical” level.
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Simon Byrne, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said: “This is part of an ongoing process of monitoring the threat level in Northern Ireland, which is conducted by MI5”.
“We have spoken publicly about the number of attacks that have taken place in recent months, not least the attempted murder of DCI John Caldwell on February 22.
“We will relentlessly pursue those who seek to cause harm and terrorise our communities, and attack my officers and staff, and I pay tribute to them as they continue to deliver for our communities.
“I would also like to thank the community and political leaders of Northern Ireland for their overwhelming support for the Police Service in recent times.”
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