The United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, announced today that Northern Ireland’s terror threat level has been raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe.’
The United Kingdom has five terror threat levels, ranging from ‘low’, meaning “an attack is highly unlikely,” to ‘critical’, meaning “an attack is highly likely in the near future.”
‘Severe’ is one step below ‘critical’ on the scale. Northern Ireland’s threat level was lowered from ‘severe’ to ‘substantial’ last year, the first time it had been downgraded since 2010. The rest of the UK has remained at ‘substantial’ since last February.
Great Britain’s security service MI5 “has increased the threat to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism from ‘substantial’ (an attack is likely) to ‘severe’ (an attack is highly likely),” Heaton-Hayes wrote in a statement.
“The public should remain vigilant, but not be alarmed, and continue to report any concerns they have to the Police Service of Northern Ireland,” the official added.
According to the Secretary, after the shooting of a police officer last month “a small number of people remain determined to cause harm.”
Today’s increase in terrorism threat level comes just as US President Joe Biden and former US President Bill Clinton prepare to visit Northern Ireland in April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Brokered by Clinton and signed on April 10, 1998, the deal involved Northern Ireland’s nationalists and unionists agreeing to share power, while their respective armed paramilitary groups agreed to decommission their weapons in exchange for the release of political prisoners.
The peace was shattered four months later, though, when the Real IRA, an offshoot of the Irish Republican Army that opposed the agreement, detonated a bomb in the town of Omagh, killing 29 people.
Paramilitary violence has continued at a low level since, and another attack in Omagh this February saw masked gunmen shoot and injure a police detective.