Raids by armed anti-terrorist officers early yesterday promise to be an important breakthrough in the fight against the IRA.
The operations, which resulted in the death of one suspect, the capture of five, and the seizure of up to 10 tonnes of explosives, bomb-making equipment, booby-trap car devices and weapons, is the second big seizure in just over two months.
In July, officers recovered components for up to 36 bombs which, it is thought, were to have been used to target power stations in the south- east. Eight men were later remanded in custody charged with conspiring to cause explosions. So are the authorities getting lucky or more skilled at tracking down terrorists? A significant development this year was the appointment of Commander John Grieve, head of Scotland Yard's Anti-Terrorist Branch. He had just taken up his new post at the beginning of February when a lorry bomb destroyed the ceasefire when it devastated a large area of Docklands, killing two people. Commander Grieve, a philosophy and psychology graduate, has a reputation as a shrewd but unconventional policeman. In his previous job as the Metropolitan Police's director of intelligence, he headed a team of specialists in surveillance and data analysis in targeting drugs-traffickers, international criminals and London gangs. He has used his expertise in intelligence-gathering to bring a new, and many believe more thoughtful and astute, approach to anti-terrorism. Among his new developments is emphasis on using closed-circuit television to ensnare terrorists and numerous appeals to the public and the criminal underworld for help. This has been backed with promises of up to pounds 1m in reward money. The potential benefit of "inside information" was highlighted by reports last night that an informer was suspected of helping police thwart the IRA in yesterday's raids. Commander Grieve's cerebral approach has also met increasing approval and appreciation from MI5, which has overall responsibility in anti-terrorist intelligence-gathering and analysis. Insiders say the net result is greater "harmony" between the police and the security service. Gone are the bad old days of turf wars and there now appears to be much closer co-operation and greater understanding. MI5 intelligence-gathering expertise has also been praised as a factor in the operations. Surveillance and undercover techniques used by the security service have been evolving over the years and are "paying dividends", a source said. But there are still a number of unsolved terror attacks from this year. Most significantly, the Docklands and Manchester bombers are still at large and while yesterday's arrests and seizures are seen as an important breakthrough, they are only considered a dent in the IRA war machine. It is understood that the suspect who died after being shot yesterday may have been a "sleeper", a man of Irish extraction who had lived in Britain for several years, blending into the community over a long period to avoid arousing suspicion. The Police Complaints Authority will supervise an investigation into his death. Four other men arrested by armed officers in a house in Fulham, south- west London, and one detained in Crawley, East Sussex - later identified as an engineer working at Gatwick - are understood to have lived in Britain for a number of years, but come from Ireland. …