The British government raised its terrorism threat level assessment in Northern Ireland to “severe” on Tuesday, two weeks before an expected visit to Belfast by President Biden.
Biden said earlier this month he would visit Northern Ireland for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace accord that stemmed three decades of bloody sectarian conflict in the province. Dates have not yet been announced.
MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, raised the terror threat due to the “very latest intelligence and analysis of factors,” according to Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris.
“In recent months, we have seen an increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland Related Terrorism, which has targeted police officers serving their communities and also put at risk the lives of children and other members of the public,” Heaton-Harris said in a statement.
The province has made major progress toward peace since the Troubles, a low-level civil war between largely Catholic Irish nationalists and largely Protestant unionists that lasted from about 1968 to 1998.
But hostilities have simmered since, with Britain’s decision to exit the European Union three years ago worsening tensions. “Brexit” created new trade barriers between Northern Ireland, a plurality Catholic part of U.K., and the rest of Britain.
Last month, a senior law enforcement official in Northern Ireland was shot and wounded by a masked gunman in a parking lot in the town of Omagh. More than a dozen people have been arrested in the case.
MI5 previously graded the terror threat level in Northern Ireland as substantial, meaning that a terror attack is “likely,” before raising the grade to severe, indicating that a terror attack is “highly likely,” according to the MI5 statement.
Since the system was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2010, the threat level has often been graded as severe.
Heaton-Harris’ statement did not mention Biden’s expected trip, but it praised the Good Friday peace agreement, which was brokered by former President Bill Clinton, ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Irish leader Bertie Ahern, among others.
It was not clear if the threat assessment would influence Biden’s planning. The White House did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The president, a Catholic with Irish roots, said March 13 he would visit both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to mark the anniversary of the peace accord.
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