PSNI intelligence chiefs have warned of a “high level” threat to all staff after a bomb fell over a female police civilian’s car last week.
Belfast Daily understands that the PSNI’s ‘C3’ intelligence branch believe the current dissident republican threat applies to both uniform officers and the 2,500 civilians who make up the force’s police staff.
Senior security sources said the biggest threat to uniformed and civilian police was currently in the Greater Belfast area and Armagh.
Last week we revealed that a deadly undercar booby trap bomb (UCBT) fell off the underside of a car owned by a female member of the police staff.
The Protestant woman was driving from her home in west Belfast to work at a police station in east Belfast when the deadly device dropped from the driver’s side of the car.
The police staff member was unaware that she was the intended target of the attack by dissident republicans.
As part of the bomb probe, all cars belonging to civilian police staff living in the northBelfastarea have been checked for any forensic clues.
Now Belfast Daily understands that ‘C3’ have redoubled their efforts to protect both police officers and civilian staff against the current “high level” threat.
A senior security source told us: “All staff perceived to be under threat have been individually interviewed by C3 detectives.
“They want to make sure that all their contact details are up to date, their mobile numbers, landlines etc.
“They have been taking a full break down of all family members living at home, VRN (vehicle registration numbers) of car and family own cars.
“Detectives have also been wanting to know where they would regularly frequent, homes, shops and other addresses that would look like a pattern to dissident terrorists.
“The threat may also extend to members of their family because it is not uncommon for family members to drive each other’s cars.
“Even those who may not see themselves under threat have been advised.
“‘C3’ are working round the clock to build an intelligence picture on those who deem to be at greatest risk of attack.
“It is a very serious situation at the moment and the watch word to all staff is step up your own personal security, check your vehicles and report any suspicious activity, suspicious vehicles, immediately to your local police station.
“Everyone needs to be on their guard. The UCBT last week came totally out of the blue.”
Dissident republican sources have told the Belfast Daily that Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) have spent a number of years building up a “target list” through intelligence gathering.
“The police can expect more attacks in the run up to Christmas. ONH will be keeping them busy,” said a dissident source in west Belfast.
Security sources said the female target of last Monday’s attack had “very lucky escape”.
“This attack was not only designed to kill a civilian police member but to also provoke a response from loyalist paramilitaries,’’ said the security source.
The day after the botched attack, the Protestant woman was one of dozens of civilian members of the PSNI who were warned at PSNI headquarters that they are under threat of death from dissident republicans.
It followed the discovery of the booby trap bomb found in north Belfast close to Springhill primary school.
The PSNI’s ‘C3’ Intelligence Branch believe that the target of the attack was under surveillance by dissident republicans who planted the bomb under her car at her home.
During Tuesday’s meeting staff were told to step up their personal security as dissidents were planning further attacks.
A security source told Belfast Daily: “Staff at 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.’’
The threat to police staff came as the Police Federation warned it was time to take the kid gloves off to tackle dissident 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.”