Six alleged members of a dissident Irish Republican network have been arrested on terrorism charges in Northern Ireland since last Saturday in a joint operation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and MI5, the U.K.'s Security Service.
Though dissident Republican groups are often characterized as splinter operations with little public support, the arrests occurred in cities across Northern Ireland. British authorities also invoked two criminal charges rarely used in Northern Ireland, "directing" terrorism and "acts preparatory "to terrorism.
The arrests come just weeks before Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee visit to Northern Ireland, and two months before up to 900,000 visitors converge on London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Security preparations for the summer games have included a stepped-up police presence and surface-to-air missile batteries atop residential buildings.
Three men were arrested on Saturday, May 11, and three more were arrested on Monday, May 13. The three men arrested Monday morning, aged 41, 42 and 47, were charged with conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to cause an explosion, preparation of terrorist acts and collecting information of use to terrorism. The 47-year-old was also charged with directing terrorism. They are due to appear in court tomorrow morning, at which time their names will be made public.
"Police have charged three men with a number of serious offences linked to a proactive investigation into dissident Republican terrorist activity in Northern Ireland," said the PSNI in a statement. "Officers have worked closely with colleagues in the Security Service and, latterly, with the Public Prosecution Service to reach a point where charges have been brought." The Security Service, also known as MI5, is the lead agency in terrorism investigations in Northern Ireland.
In recent years, dissident Republican groups have mounted both bombing attacks aimed at law enforcement and so-called "punishment" attacks against alleged drug dealers and criminals. Splinter groups have improved their bombmaking skills and now have the capability to detonate devices by remote control, say police.
According to U.K. press accounts, a 600-lb device found on the outskirts of Newry, Northern Ireland on April 26 "could have been set off by someone in the area with a transmitter." Police said that the device, which was left in a white Citroen Berlingo van, was "ready to go." They added that it was designed to kill and was to be detonated with a remote transmitter.
Earlier this month, the dissident Republican group Óglaigh na hÉireann is believed to have left a milk-churn bomb found on an island in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Anti-terrorist officers told the media that they believe the bomb "was hidden there in a panic as Gardaí [Irish police] carried out a major search and disrupt operation following the discovery of the Newry van bomb."