Police have issued a stark warning that mainland Britain faces a "substantial threat" of an Irish republican bombing campaign.
Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism section sent a warning of the new threat to businesses across London on Friday evening, following intelligence received from MI5 (British counter intelligence) about an increase in activity from groups such as the Real Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The chilling warning states: "Reporting indicates that dissident Irish republican terrorists are currently planning to mount attacks on the UK mainland."
It goes on to explain that methods used by breakaway groups in Northern Ireland could be transferred to Britain. These include "incendiary and improved explosive devices" used in recent campaigns, "postal devices" and "shooting attacks." The police warning adds that hoax calls have also been made "to amplify the disruptive effect of such attacks." The level of the threat is now thought to be "substantial," just one stage below the "severe-general" threat from al-Qaeda.
Police and the intelligence services warned at the beginning of February of an increase in the threat from the Provisional IRA after reports it would return to the armed conflict amid the breakdown of negotiations over arms decommissioning.
One intelligence source warned of making too clear a distinction between dissident groups and the IRA itself.
"It is often convenient for the security services to talk about `provisionals' and `dissidents,' but there are an awful lot of grey areas and blurring of the edges," he said.
Police sources said that existing resources would be sufficient to cope with the heightened threat as anti-terror police were already in a state of readiness to cope with the al-Qaeda threat.
The upgrading of the threat level will raise fears about the collapse of the peace process -- already under threat from allegations of IRA involvement in the murder of Robert McCartney and the raid on the Northern Bank in Belfast on Dec. 20 in which ?26 million was stolen.
In early February the IRA issued a statement to the British and Irish governments saying: "Do not underestimate the seriousness of the situation."
The note came 24 hours after it withdrew its offer to decommission weapons.
A spokeswoman for the London Metropolitan Police confirmed on Saturday that the threat level had been raised. She said the warning was sent out as part of system to inform companies and businesses in the City of London (the British capital's financial district) to remain vigilant against terrorism.
Although the warning referred to the whole of Britain, she emphasized there was no specific threat to any individual businesses in the capital or elsewhere. She added that the warning had been circulated through Project Griffin, a partnership to train security managers across the City.
On Friday, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy said that there was "no hope" of political progress until the question of IRA criminality had been dealt with.