The Real IRA has been joined by Republican Action Against Drugs and smaller independent groups operating in Belfast and rural areas of Northern Ireland.
Three dissident groups have merged to create a new IRA. Photo: EFE
Three of the four main militant nationalist groups in Northern Ireland said they are merging and reclaiming the banner of the IRA in a threat to intensify a campaign of violence against the continued British presence in the province.
The Real IRA has been joined by Republican Action Against Drugs - a Londonderry vigilante group - and what a statement described as "non conformist republicans" - smaller independent groups operating in Belfast and rural areas of Northern Ireland.
It is the first time since the signing of a 1998 peace deal which copper-fastened the Provisional IRA's ceasefire that most of the disparate republican groups still intent on violence have come together under a single leadership.
But the Continuity IRA, the other main dissident nationalist group opposed to the peace deal, which largely ended three decades of violence in which over 3,600 people died, is not part of the new organisation.
The Continuity IRA said in a separate statement on Thursday that it had a new leadership and was intent on pursuing its own campaign for a united Ireland.
International monitors confirmed in 2005 that the Irish Republican Army had given up all its weapons. But sporadic violence has increased in recent years with the Real IRA, which was behind the murder of two British soldiers shot dead outside an army base in 2009, leading the way.
The new group said on Thursday it had formed a "unified structure, under a single leadership" and that it would be "subservient to the constitution of the Irish Republican Army" - the banner under which opposition to British involvement in Ireland has operated for more than a century.
It includes independent dissidents who have been responsible for the murder of one policeman, injury of others and a series of attacks on officers in recent years.
The statement of their intent to intensify terror attacks was issued to a Guardian journalist who was called to a secret meeting in a forest on the Irish border.
Nationalist sources said the new group includes several hundred armed dissidents, including some former members of the Provisional IRA disenchanted with the peace process and their political wing - Sinn Fein - for taking their place in a power-sharing government with former unionists foes.
The leader of the mainstream nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Alasdair McDonald, condemned the new group and said it would be resisted every step of the way. "Neither this new so-called IRA , the Continuity IRA or any other iteration of dissident threat will destabilise the structures and partnerships that have underpinned the relative peace of the last 14 years," McDonald said in a statement.