Three senior Irish dissidents were arrested and charged with a range of serious and rarely used terror offenses, Northern Irish police said on Friday.
The three men, ages 41, 42 and 42, were charged with offenses such as conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to cause an explosion, preparation of terrorist acts and collecting information of use to terrorism.
Northern Irish police said the men were arrested in Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on Monday as part of a “proactive investigation” into dissident republican terrorist activity. Police said several of the charges have seldom been used in the past in Northern Ireland.
British intelligence has stepped up efforts in Northern Ireland recently and law enforcement officials believe Irish dissidents could pose a threat to the Olympic games, which will be held from July 28 to Aug. 7.
The Olympic torch is scheduled to pass through one of the most heavily bombed streets in Northern Ireland early next month.
However, a British official said the three men are not believed to have been planning attacks on the Olympics, torch relay, or Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his job said the charges were still significant because Irish dissidents were rarely charged with preparation of terrorist acts.
The operation showed that Britain was using techniques used to fight threats posed by groups such as al-Qaeda to tackle problems in Northern Ireland, he said.
Last autumn, a Lithuanian judge found an Irish man guilty of trying to buy weapons and explosives in a six-year sting orchestrated by Britain’s domestic spy agency MI5 — a case that drew attention to the plans of a hardcore Irish Republican Army splinter group to launch attacks in London.
Judge Arunas Kisielus of the Vilnius Regional Court sentenced Michael Campbell — a 39-year-old with alleged links to the Real IRA group — to 12 years in prison for weapons offenses and supporting a terrorist group.
The three men were scheduled to appear in court yesterday. Police said another three men and a woman who were arrested last Saturday as part of the same investigation are still in custody.