Threat | 

New IRA warns public ‘to keep distance from British Crown Forces as we may strike any time’

The threat follows reports that shots had been fired at a republican bonfire in Derry attended by around 1,000 people recently

People gather at the burning of a bonfire in the Bogside area of Derry last month© PA

Allison MorrisBelfast Telegraph

A statement claiming to be from the New IRA in Derry has warned people in the city to “keep their distance from British Crown Forces”.

The statement signed by “T O’Neill” said: “The Irish Republican Army would again like to reiterate to all members of the public to keep their distance from British Crown Forces and personnel as we may strike at any time.”

The threat follows reports that shots had been fired at a republican bonfire in the city attended by around 1,000 people recently.

Police confirmed that they were investigating reports of gunfire at the bonfire in the Meenan Square area of the Bogside in Derry at about 11.20pm on Monday, August 15.

It was claimed as an attack by the New IRA.

In a fuller statement, the dissident republican organisation claimed that they had fired two AK47s at a police patrol.

Sources say the Chinese AK47s were recently acquired by the group, which had lost almost all its existing weaponry in intelligence-led raids. In June 2020, a gun found by police during searches in Derry was identified as the weapon used to murder journalist Lyra McKee.

The PSNI confirmed it was the murder weapon after initial tests and an examination of the weapon, a Hammerli X-Esse pistol.

Ms McKee (29) was shot dead during trouble in the city’s Creggan area in 2019.

The pistol, along with a bomb, was found during police searches in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry that followed a tip-off.

The gun had been stolen during a robbery in Fermanagh in 2000.

Having been heavily infiltrated by MI5, the alleged leadership of the New IRA is currently behind bars facing charges linked to two bugged meetings in Co Tyrone in 2020.

Last week the man said to have been appointed as the Belfast ‘officer commanding’ of the organisation at one of the bugged meetings was remanded in custody on terrorism charges.

Gary McNally was arrested along with Joseph Donnelly, and both were charged in connection with bugged meetings at Whiterock Leisure Centre in west Belfast in July and August 2020.

To date, the MI5-led Operation Arabica has neutralised the New IRA in Belfast and Tyrone.

Derry remains the organisation’s last powerbase, with a membership made up mainly of young people aged in their late teens and 20s operating under a small, older leadership.

Derry republicans Joe Barr and Paddy McDaid, both facing terror charges as part of Operation Arbacia, have since cut ties with Saoradh, the New IRA’s political wing, and publicly renounced violence. In May of this year, Creggan native Billy Elliot fled his Derry home after accusations that he was an informer, passing information on the New IRA to the authorities.

His family traced his phone to London before it was cut off.

Sources say the New IRA had one remaining AK47 assault rifle but were unable to retrieve it due to fears that the weapon had been bugged by the intelligence services who were monitoring it and planned to arrest anyone who tried to access the weapon.

Republicans say the bonfire ‘show of strength’ was aimed at trying to recruit young people attending the bonfire with a view to making up numbers for the depleted organisation.

A source said many of the older original members have walked away over concerns at the level of infiltration by MI5.

A PSNI spokesperson said the investigation into the shots fired at the bonfire is ongoing, and appealed for anyone with information or captured footage that could may assist their investigation to call 101.

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