The New Irish Republican Army claimed (New IRA) responsibility for bombing a prison officer’s van in the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast Monday, renewing fears a new wave of violence could be imminent.
The terrorist group claimed the man was targeted due to training officers who work in the Maghaberry prison in which many republican revolutionaries are held. According to the group, the officer is only one of an entire list of targets.
Three men and one woman have been arrested on suspicion they were involved in the attack.
Once thought to be a thing of the past, officials are concerned that terrorist attacks from splinter IRA groups such as the New IRA will make a resurgence as the centennial anniversary of the Eastern Rising approaches March 27.
“I believe there are people within dissident republican groupings who want to mark this centenary by killing police officers, prison officers and soldiers,” said Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, to the Telegraph.
The prison officer targeted in the Belfast bombing survived the attack and is currently hospitalized in stable condition, though Martin has described the current terror threat level in Northern Ireland as “the upper end of severe.”
The New IRA is the latest iteration of the Provisional IRA (PIRA) which sought to unify Ireland and Northern Ireland through conflict. The group stemmed from the original IRA which fought a revolution against British rule from 1916 to 1921. The Irish Free State was created after the revolution, but six northern counties continued to be dominated by Britain in exchange. The decision to cede the six counties created a rift within the Irish revolutionary movement, with some desiring a full unification.
Tensions between Ireland and Northern Ireland remained high, yet relatively non-violent, until the 1970s. Conflict erupted when Catholics in Northern Ireland engaged in civil disobedience in reaction to discrimination and harassment from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland’s provincial police force. The IRA disagreed over how to respond to the events, which led to a split. Those in Dublin argued for a peaceful unification while the provisionals decided to pursue unification through violence.
Conflict in Northern Ireland raged until 1997 when a ceasefire was reached. The Good Friday accord would be signed in April 1998, resulting in a planned disarming of the PIRA.
A significant portion of the PIRA disagreed with the disarmament, which has led to splinter groups attempting to take the IRA mantle. Continuity IRA broke off in 1986, and is responsible for a high-profile shooting at a boxing weigh-in in Dublin Feb. 5, 2016. New IRA formed as a direct response to the accords in 1998 and has operated since, albeit in a very limited role with a small membership of around 200.
New IRA has been involved in several disputes with Irish criminal groups since its inception. Vinnie Ryan, believed to have been a New IRA leader, was shot in the head by a hit squad Feb. 29. His brother, Ryan, was group’s former leader until he was assassinated in September, 2012.
Despite the New IRA’s limited numbers and leadership turbulence, the United Kingdom issued a statement in December warning the group could stage attacks on the British mainland.
“A real terrorist threat persists in parts of Northern Ireland,” said Andrew Parker, director of MI5, the U.K.’s domestic security service. “For every one of those attacks we and our colleagues in the police have stopped, three or four others [could be] coming to fruition.”
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