“They are hunting old weapons dumps. There are a dozen around and along the border…”
The terror group blamed for last week’s courthouse bombing may be visiting old IRA weapons caches amid fears of a campaign of carnage over Brexit.
The Irish Sunday Mirror has learned gardai identified dissident republicans at suspected dumps.
It comes after the blast in Derry was pinned on the New IRA – and it was yesterday reported that MI5 has more than 700 spies stationed in Belfast to counter the threat from the group.
A counter-terror source said: “There is a reason MI5 has 20% of its total strength in Belfast and last weekend was a timely reminder of that reason.”
One former republican commander has warned violence will rise if nationalists feel betrayed by a hard Brexit. A Garda source said: “For years, these people have been a minor threat.
“But since 2010, then since Brexit, they’ve got better organised. We’ve been watching, so has MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
“They have people with expertise and others who have never shed blood in the Troubles but have been radicalised by Brexit.
“They are hunting old weapons dumps. There are a dozen around and along the border – some empty, others we left undisturbed and monitor.
“They are looking for Semtex and machine guns. They could become a bigger threat to the UK and Ireland than ISIS. The fear is last Saturday’s attack was the start of a longer campaign.”
The Provisional IRA declared a ceasefire in 1994 and finished decommissioning in 2005. Since then, the PSNI has seized 12 assault rifles linked to the group and 17kg of Semtex – but more could be hidden.
A republican source said the New IRA is also trying to find old Official IRA dumps in Northern Ireland. He added that as the region’s Remain vote was 56%, dissidents think they have a mandate.
Since the vote, the EU and British government have insisted a hard border will not return on the island and the PM’s deal with Brussels includes the backstop – but hardline Brexiteers want no deal, which could mean a hard border. This stalemate threatens the relative peace since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.