MI5, the UK's domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, raised the terror threat level for Northern Ireland on Tuesday from "substantial" to "severe".
The 5 official threat levels in the UK are:
According to the British government, the likelihood of an attack in Northern Ireland is high. Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris told the House of Commons that the decision to heighten the threat level was solely MI5's and was independent of ministers. The agency's decision was based on authorities' evidence of threats.
Heaton-Harris briefed members of parliament via a statement saying, "MI5 has increased the threat to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism from 'SUBSTANTIAL' (an attack is likely) to 'SEVERE' (an attack is highly likely)."
"The public should remain vigilant, but not be alarmed, and continue to report any concerns they have to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)," the statement concluded.
The most recent terror-related violence occurred on February 22 when a senior police officer, Det Ch Insp John Caldwell, was shot while loading his car at a soccer complex after coaching local youth. Two gunmen approached the off-duty officer and shot him multiple times.
Local authorities primarily focused their investigation into the shooting on the New IRA and other violent dissident republican groups.
The New IRA eventually claimed responsibility through a typed statement that appeared in Londonderry on February 26.
Although Northern Ireland is mostly peaceful compared to the height of violence during The Troubles, "a small number of people remain determined to cause harm to our communities through acts of politically motivated violence," Heaton-Harris said.
The Secretary also cited an "increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland Related Terrorism, which has targeted police officers."
The shooting of Caldwell in February was not the only incident of dissident violence in recent months. In November, a police patrol vehicle was damaged in a bombing in Strabane, County Tyrone, which led police to open an attempted murder investigation. While police highly suspected the New IRA was responsible for the bombing, they released all 4 persons of interest who were initially arrested.
"The political future of Northern Ireland rests with the democratic will of the people and not the violent actions of the few," Heaton-Harris' statement noted.
"Together we will ensure there is no return to the violence of the past," the Secretary concluded.
While Northern Ireland's threat level has been raised to "severe," the UK's overall threat level is "substantial".
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