POLICE have today warned the public to be on their guard as dissident republicans are planning Christmas bomb attacks in Belfast.
A senior PSNI officer said dissidents were planning to target businesses as shoppers flock to stores to buy Christmas gifts.
Assistant Chief Constable for Crime Operations, Will Kerr, said: “We want people to have an enjoyable time but we believe there is a strong possibility that terrorist groups are planning to try and disrupt the Christmas period by engaging in a range of attacks.
“These attacks may take the form of incidents seen last year such as the firebomb attack in Belfast’s Cornmarket, the car bomb at Victoria Square and the explosive device in a holdall at Cathedral Quarter.
“There has been a recent upsurge in terrorist activity with attacks in north Belfast, Derry and Strabane.
“We are issuing a strong warning but we don’t want people to be scared. We want them to be vigilant, to work with us and to be patient whenever we have to deploy tactics such as checkpoints to frustrate terrorists and keep people safe.”
ACC Kerr made his comments at a media facility in Belfast today. He said: “As we approach the festive season, we will be continuing with an enhanced policing profile across Northern Ireland to provide safety and reassurance to everyone but we also need your help and support.
“I would ask the public to remain vigilant at all times. If you witness anyone acting in a suspicious manner or see any suspicious-looking objects, please report it to police immediately.
“We continue to engage with our partners within the business community in Belfast and across Northern Ireland to ensure that the balance of how we police this threat is right. There may be some disruption as police do their job and there may also be times when we are required to ask for buildings or areas to be evacuated and, to that end, we would call on the public to cooperate fully with us as we will always make public safety our top priority.
“Local officers will continue to check traffic coming in and out of the city centre. I understand the frustration this may cause to commuters but would ask for patience to let officers do their job. These checkpoints are necessary to keep people safe.
“We are very conscious that our role as a police service is to make sure that we create an environment in which business can operate successfully and people can work, relax and socialise in safety. We want to do this by causing as little disruption as possible. But we also need to ensure that people with more sinister intent do not succeed in bringing devastation to our city centre and to other towns and cities in Northern Ireland.
“We will not be distracted from our efforts and commitment to keep the community in Northern Ireland safe but to do this, we need community support, co-operation and vigilance.
“Anyone with information is asked to contact police on the non-emergency number 101. Alternatively, information can be given anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”