LONDON — Britain raised the terror threat level from groups in Northern Ireland on Friday, the first such change since a wave of new attacks in the territory and fresh threats from groups who say they plan to attack England.
The level has changed from "moderate" to "substantial" — the middle rung on the five-point threat scale, which means the threat has risen to a point where an attack is a strong possibility. The threat from international terrorism, which is ranked on a separate scale, stands at severe, meaning an attack is considered highly likely.
The highest level is "critical" — meaning an attack is imminent.
The government has never before released the threat assessment to mainland Britain from groups in Northern Ireland — either dissident republicans or unionists.
Northern Ireland's main Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups have disarmed since a 1998 peace accord that brought a power-sharing government and ended almost 30 years of violence. But Irish Republican Army splinter groups have recently stepped up attacks inside the province. Several people have been injured.
The threat level change comes shortly before two political party conferences — the Labour Party's conference in Manchester on Saturday, and the Conservative Party's October conference in Birmingham.
Last week the head of the MI5 spy agency warned that dissidents who reject Northern Ireland's peace process could strike mainland British cities for the first time since 2001.
Jonathan Evans said Irish republican splinter groups, who favor separation from Britain in favor of joining the Republic of Ireland, have access to weapons, including Semtex explosives, and funds from smuggling and drug trafficking.
Earlier this month, The Guardian
newspaper quoted the dissident Real IRA group as saying it planned attacks in England and would focus on banks.