Belfast Telegraph

Army back on streets to combat terror threat

By Nevin Farrell
12 October 2004

The Army is back on the streets of Ballymena as the security forces intensify their efforts to thwart a dissident republican threat against police officers, it has emerged.

Senior police officers in the Co Antrim town confirmed yesterday that a small number of Army personnel have been travelling in police vehicles as part of a range of measures to combat the terrorist menace.

It is understood the threat is specifically aimed at off-duty Catholic police officers living in the mixed, but mainly Catholic, north end of Ballymena.

Ballymena PSNI commander Superintendent Terry Shevlin said there have been no arrests to date as part of the heightened level of security force operations which came into force last week.

It is believed to be the first time in several years that the Army has been out on the streets backing up the police in Ballymena but PSNI Chief Inspector Stephen Martin said there were only a small number of Army personnel involved and they are travelling with police officers in PSNI vehicles and not in Army Land Rovers.

Chief Insp Martin said: "We are very grateful to our military colleagues for this assistance but we very much look forward to the day whenever we can resort to patrolling entirely without them."

Superintendent Shevlin meanwhile, was keen to stress that the terror threat was aimed at the security forces and he did not consider the public at large in Ballymena to be the target.

He was keen to stress that the public should continue to shop normally in the town.

Supt Shevlin said: "We don't think this is a direct threat against the business or community life in Ballymena but I'm personally angry that the threat exists against security force members and this is not acceptable.

"I'm disappointed that some people cannot leave the past behind and are subjecting security force members to a certain degree of fear and trepidation."

A number of police checkpoints have been put in place and Army helicopters have hovered over the town in recent nights.

Chief Inspector Martin said two years ago dissident republicans placed a bomb under a police officer's car in Ballymena and since then police have been vigilant to the threat.

Ballymena SDLP councillor and District Policing Partnership member Declan O'Loan has strongly condemned the threat against PSNI officers in Ballymena.

He said: "It is clear that this is a substantial threat, and that something substantial was being planned.

"I deplore any threat to the lives of police officers, and I offer my support to them and their families at what must be a difficult time.

"I regret also the inevitable damage that this does to the community policing project.

"We don't want to see our police officers in flak jackets again," he said.

"We want them to be able to move freely in the community, so that they can do their job and give reassurance to the public," Mr O'Loan said.

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