POLICE chiefs yesterday warned staff at PSNI headquarters they are under threat of death from dissident republicans.
It follows the discovery of a booby trap bomb found in north Belfast on Monday which fell off a car close to Springhill Primary School.
Belfast Daily has learned that detectives from the PSNI’s ‘C3’ Intelligence Branch believe that the target of the attack was a member of police staff based at either headquarters or at Lisnasharragh station.
Lisnasharragh is home to the Professional Standards Department but it also houses covert units involved in anti-terrorist work and surveillance of criminal gangs.
Belfast Daily has also learned that staff were called to a meeting at Brooklyn HQ in east Belfast and told to step up their personal security as dissidents were planning further attacks.
To try an counter the threat, the PSNI’S ‘Hawkeye’ helicopter, which is fitted with thermal imaging cameras, was dispatched over north Belfast last to keep a watch dissident republican activity.
A security source told Belfast Daily: “Staff at police headquarters were briefed and told to increase their personal security around their homes and cars.
“They were not told which specific group was targeting them but the intelligence is that dissident republican groups are targeting them for attack.
“The staff were told that currently the threat level in north Belfast is ‘critical’ and they needed to be extra careful.
“In recent days, a number of vehicles were stolen in the Ardoyne and New Lodge areas but have not been traced yet.
“We believe they may be in storage in garages or lock ups ready to be used in an attack.’’
Sources close to Oglaigh na hEireann, ONH, said it is planning to step up attacks in the run up to Christmas using under car booby trap bombs (UCBTs).
“They are going to keep them very busy in the run up to Christmas,” said the soure.
“They have drawn up a varied list of targets. It could change by the hour, the day, the week.
“They are totally paranoid about internal security to stop them being penetrated by Special Branch or MI5.
“That’s why they work in very small four-man units. It helps to narrow down a tout if the numbers are low.”
The threat to police staff came as the Police Federation warned it was time to take the kid gloves off to tackle dissident republian terrorism.
Chairman Terry Spence also said the PSNI needed an extra 1,000 officers to cope with public disorder linked to parading issues.
“Pretending that we are dealing with minuscule terrorist groups is simply self-deceiving wishful thinking,’’ said Mr Spence.
“These people may be politically misguided lunatics but they have become a lethal force which needs a legally-based aggressive response from the Executive, the PSNI and the judiciary
“More information and intelligence leading to convictions is needed from the wider community at all levels,’’ he added.
On Monday, two controlled explosions were carried out on the device on Ballymagarry Lane near Springhill primary school.
Forensics teams spent hours searching along the road for particles of the device and any other evidence to link to dissident republican gangs.
Anti-terrorist detectives have examined a number of cars that passed along the road in the hours before the bomb was discovered but they do not believe it was attached to any of them.
Local politicians have condemned those behind the attack which forced staff and pupils at four local primary schools to stay indoors until the area was made safe.
DUP MLA William Humphrey said: “Nearly 350 households were affected by this device which we now know was viable.
“This was a reckless and indiscriminate event, something very sinister and worrying.
“This is a built-up area, it’s densely populated with primary schools nearby. We could have had carnage here today,” he added.
SDLP MLA Alban Maginness described it as a “very dangerous device”.
“It could have quite easily killed somebody or seriously injured them,” he said.
“It was designed to do as much damage as possible and therefore it is a very disturbing discovery.”