Police in Northern Ireland have said they have “strong” intelligence terror attacks are being planned against their officers on Easter Monday.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne said that officers would be moved to frontline duties to counter any potential threats, in a policing strategy he said hadn’t been used for years.
He said this reflected the “exceptional circumstances” ahead of this Easter weekend.
Speaking in Belfast, Irish deputy premier Micheal Martin condemned the threat of a terrorist attack as “criminality in its worst form” and said it was “very evil people who are contemplating this”.
The warning comes just days before the arrival of US President Joe Biden in Belfast on Tuesday.
The president’s trip will have a strong focus on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which falls on Easter Monday. He will also visit Dublin, Co Louth and Co Mayo.
MI5 recently raised the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.
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This followed the shooting of senior detective John Caldwell in Co Tyrone, who has been left with life-changing injuries.
Police have blamed the New IRA for the attack.
Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said the force has received “strong” intelligence that dissidents are planning to launch terror attacks against officers over the bank holiday weekend.
“It’s going to be a really significant weekend for the PSNI,” ACC Singleton told a press conference in Belfast.
“There is also very strong community intelligence specifically coming forward in respect of Monday’s events in Derry/Londonderry and a real concern that there may be attempts to draw police in to serious public disorder and to use that then as a platform to launch terrorist attacks on police as well.
“So going into our operation that’s something that is very clearly right at the forefront of my mind, the minds of the commanders that will be delivering that and of course our officers as well.”
Chief Constable Byrne said the policing strategy, which will see some officers working 12-hour shifts and some “non-frontline roles move to support the collective effort to focus on preventing further terrorist outrage”, would remain in place for around 10 days and would then be reviewed.
Easter Monday is the day dissident republicans traditionally mark the anniversary of the Easter Rising rebellion against British rule in 1916, with a parade set to take place in Londonderry.
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The terror threat level in Northern Ireland has been raised
“The intent remains the same. I think as I see it, it’s the risk, it’s the platform potentially, in particular, that public disorder may present,” ACC Singleton said.
“We don’t have to go too far back, sadly, to see precisely that kind of scenario playing out in Derry/Londonderry in the past.
“So that is absolutely something that’s in the mind of myself and the police commanders as we approach that event, and it will be something that we’ll have to keep under constant review depending on how things develop on the day.”
When asked about whether guns or explosives could be used to target police in Londonderry, he said: “We’ve seen that in the past and, on that basis, we have to be prepared for that and we will be prepared for all eventualities on Monday.”