Northern Ireland’s top police officer says the terrorist threat is sophisticated and changing.
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne spoke yesterday after detectives investigating the discovery of a mortar bomb pointed at a police station arrested a 33-year-old man, and a further suspicious device was found in subsequent searches.
An improvised explosive device (IED) was positioned close to a family home in Strabane, Co Tyrone on Saturday.
Mr Byrne hailed the work and courage of his officers, who he said worked without thought for their own safety.
Speaking in Londonderry, Mr Byrne admitted he was concerned by the recent upsurge in dissident republican linked violence, and spent time with officers who were attacked during searches in the Creggan area where another suspicious device was found on Monday.
“I am worried frankly, over the last few months I’ve dealt with more potential threats to kill my officers since I’ve been here than my predecessor dealt with in a whole year. We’ve seen changing types of engineering and capability that show determination and motivation clearly aimed at killing and maiming officers but also indiscriminate: in any one of these situations potentially a member of the public could have been killed.
“The device we recovered here was a potentially dangerous device and I have little doubt had it detonated anyone nearby would been killed or seriously injured from the way it was put together.
“It was complex and it was sophisticated and the threat is clearly changing.”
Mr Byrne refused to be drawn on who was behind the building and planting of the devices, but said that knowledge of explosive-making may be coming from those who had been involved in terrorist activity previously.
“The expertise is coming perhaps from the past, and the internet is buzzing with info on how to make explosive devices and we’re working with detectives to see how best we can thwart that crime,” he said.
Mr Byrne has reiterated his call for more police officers, as he says the current model of relying on officer overtime is an unhealthy way of managing a police force.
“We need to grow the PSNI to a figure of 7,500 officers to continue the fight against paramilitaries,” he added.
“I’m not saying we can’t cope, we deal with a variety of crimes and incidents, day to day policing carries on, officers are resistant to all pressures that come their way, but we can’t carry on this way.”