Army sends special forces to Northern Ireland as violence skyrockets

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A loyalist rioter stands behind a burnt out car in Tigers Bay north Belfast


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Special forces soldiers have been deployed under cover in Northern Ireland.
At least eight members of the secret unit have been sent to work with MI5 for the first time in four years as protests and violence escalate.

The move follows clashes in which dozens of officers were injured when stones, gasoline bombs and fireworks were thrown by youth gangs on Belfast nationalist Springfield Road.

MI5 and military intelligence officials fear the riots, which have spread across the country, could lead to a return of deadly paramilitary attacks.

A team from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment will help coordinate intelligence operations and attempt to identify the leaders behind the violence.

Loyalists in conflict with PSNI in Tigers Bay area north of Belfast
(Image: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye)

A source said: ‘Northern Ireland is a powder keg and has been for some time. The tensions are extremely high.

“There are elements on the nationalist and loyalist sides who want to see the British troops return to the streets, but it would be a disaster.

The covert operation comes after more than a week of violent clashes sparked by post-Brexit tensions.

A crowd was bombarded with a water cannon on Thursday – the first time they have been used in Northern Ireland in six years.

Loyalists urged their communities to refrain from any protest activity out of respect for the Duke of Edinburgh.

But pockets of unrest continued over the weekend. Police were attacked with missiles and a car was set on fire in Tiger’s Bay, a Loyalist area north of Belfast.

Some officers had stones and bottles thrown at them, and there were reports of the use of gasoline bombs.

A loyalist rioter stands behind a burnt out car in Tigers Bay north Belfast
(Image: PA)

There was a heavy police presence in the area on Friday evening, with reports of stones being thrown at police officers in the neighboring Nationalist area of ​​New Lodge.

A witness said: “The worst thing I saw was a car that was stolen from a nearby street and caught on fire. Then someone drove him over and jumped in, letting the car coast into the police barricade.

Nichola McKee Corner, whose journalist sister Lyra McKee was killed by the Real IRA two years ago, has called for an end to the violence.

She said: “Destroying property and attacking people does nothing to advance a cause of any kind. In fact, it does the opposite.

Police in riot gear on Friday used water cannons to disperse rioters
Police in riot gear on Friday used water cannons to disperse rioters
(Image: Agence Anadolu via Getty Images)

News of the deployment comes after the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Special forces were withdrawn from Northern Ireland in 2011 but returned in 2015 after attacks by Republicans. They were retired in 2017.

The threat status in Northern Ireland is ‘serious’, the second highest, meaning that an attack by Republican terrorists is ‘highly likely’.

The threat level in the rest of the UK is ‘substantial’ which means an attack is likely.

The Defense Ministry does not comment on special forces.

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