UK raises terror threat level in Northern Ireland to 'severe'

LONDON: MI5, the United Kingdom’s domestic counterintelligence and security agency on Tuesday raised the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland from “substantial” to “severe,” ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit to the UK.

The decision of raising the threat level to “severe,” implies an attack is highly likely, was announced by UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris on Tuesday. However, the White House has said that the change will not affect Biden’s plans to visit the UK, CNN reported.

“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,” in a written Ministerial Statement, Heaton-Harris said.

In late February, a high-profile police officer in the country, Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell, was shot several times in front of his son and other children at a sports complex in Omagh, County Tyrone.

Heaton-Harris said the public should remain vigilant, but not be alarmed, and continue to report any concerns they have to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

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. The threat level to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism is constantly monitored and is subject to a regular formal review.

“This is a systematic, comprehensive and rigorous process, based on the very latest intelligence and analysis of factors which drive the threat. The threat level review takes into account a range of factors and analysis of recent incidents,” the statement added.

In February, Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell was shot several times by masked men in at a sports complex in Omagh, as per the news report. At that time, the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said that the force’s primary focus was on “violent dissident republicans,” and a number of people have been arrested since the attack.

Over the last 25 years, Northern Ireland has transformed into a peaceful society. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement demonstrates how peaceful and democratic politics improve society. However, a small number of people remain determined to cause harm to our communities through acts of politically motivated violence.

Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden said that he would visit Northern Ireland for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), also known as the Belfast Agreement. Biden also announced that he would visit the Republic of Ireland, according to CNN.

While the precise dates for Biden’s visit have not been finalized, the White House said that the terror threat change will not prevent the president from visiting. Notably, the Good Friday Agreement anniversary falls on April 10. However, Biden is likely to visit slightly later in the month.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, White House deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton said, “No, it does not have any potential implications for future travel,” according to CNN. Dalton further said, “I think as some of you may be aware, according to the UK authorities this announcement returned Northern Ireland to the threat levels they have been at for the last 12 years, reversing a downgrade that occurred just last year.” (ANI)

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