Anti-terror troops deployed in Northern Ireland present at Tube shooting
By Henry McDonald
A controversial covert British Army unit that has been deployed in Northern Ireland to counter dissident republican terrorists was involved in the security operation that ended in the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, sources have revealed.
Soldiers of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment were present in London in July 2005 on the day Scotland Yard firearms specialists shot dead the innocent Brazilian at Stockwell underground station, believing he was a terrorist.
Although officially the regiment was not “deployed” that day, its soldiers provided “technical support” for Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist operation, the Observer has learnt.
Reports last week of the regiment’s deployment in Northern Ireland caused a political storm, with Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness saying it was “stupid and dangerous” and adding that it had “shaken his confidence” in Northern Ireland’s police chief.
Sir Hugh Orde, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said he had been provided with a “tiny number of specialists” to counter the threat from dissident republicans, which he said was “severe”.
Security sources said the regiment was formed over four years ago as a “roving” surveillance unit. “It has a global role and can be sent all over the world to work alongside existing military personnel on the ground. It is basically a new name for the amalgamation of the 14 Intelligence and Security Group – or ‘the Det’ [Detachment], as it was known – with bits and pieces of other special forces,” the sources said.
“They work on close-quarter covert surveillance. The surveillance equipment they have is out of this world. It is the best kit in the world. They will be able to provide camera feeds from a suspect’s home and be able to watch it miles away in a base.”
The sources said the regiment, smaller than the SAS, was about 150 strong, the size of a full company.
Orde’s warning of the dissident threat arises partly from their acquisition of new bomb-making techniques. The threat level was raised after a dissidents’ bomb was defused in Castlewellan, Co Down, last month. Security sources this weekend told the Observer that the 300lb device was fitted with an extra “anti-handling” system that made it dangerous for Army technical officers to defuse.
The Special Reconnaissance Regiment has been called in because of the PSNI’s lack of manpower and experience in anti-terrorist surveillance operations.
The revelation that a company of undercover soldiers is operational in Northern Ireland will cause huge embarrassment for Sinn Féin and provide a propaganda coup for the dissidents. The Real IRA’s political allies, the 32-County Sovereignty Committee, said the deployment of the regiment came as no surprise, and showed that Britain had “failed to pacify Ireland”.
The Observer has also learnt that Orde failed to inform the Northern Ireland Policing Board’s chairman, Sir Des Rea, about his decision to bring in the undercover regiment.