The British Army’s elite Special Reconnaisance Regiment were involved in the ambush in county Fermanagh last week in which a number of shots were fired, it has emerged.
Local representatives have said it was a miracle that no-one was injured in the incident, which bore the hallmarks of a carefully planned military operation.
The operation was being portrayed in the mainstream media as an (abortive) arrest operation rather than a shoot-to-kill attempt. It was confirmed that MI5, SRR and Special Branch PSNI police were involved.
Three of five men subsequently arrested in the incident have been released, while two have been charged with planning an attack on a local member of the PSNI police.
At a court hearing in Dungannon, it was revealed that one of those arrested said he had gone to the border village of Garrison in west Fermanagh to warn the trainee PSNI man, when he was fired upon.
The PSNI Special Branch claimed that they were shot at before they returned fire. However, no weapon was recovered from the scene.
Two men, both from the 26 Counties, continue to be held without bail, although three others were released unconditionally.
No republican organisation has claimed any involvement in the incident, but PSNI Chief Matt Baggott insisted it was a blow to dissidents in the area. The undercover operation was a “superb piece of policing”, he said.
Local MP Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Fein joined in a string of condemnation of the dissident groups, and did not criticise the deployment of undercover British troops in the border area.
“The people carrying out these attacks [dissidents] are doing so against the expressed wishes of the Irish people and to wreck the advances of the peace and political process,” she said.
“We need to do more than just ritual condemnation,” she said.
“We need to be showing our people the necessary political leadership to steer us through the remainder of this process.”
She said progress on the devolution of policing would frustrate those who want the political process to fail.
Des Dalton, president of Republican Sinn Fein, said the incident was a product of continued British rule in the north of Ireland.
“What is happening in Fermanagh is acting out the lesson of Irish history that so long as there is British presence in Ireland there will be opposition,” he said.
In Belfast, the breakaway group known as Oglaigh na hEireann was linked in the media to a bomb attempt at Policing Board headquarters in the city at the weekend.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said those behind the attack had failed to spell out a strategy for their campaign.
“Armed struggle has to be the last resort, and it clearly isn’t now. If you have no strategy and just go to kill, you’re a killer. You’re gunmen, not revolutionaries, or even rebels,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
“It was a hard decision for me to join an army. But that was a time when there wasn’t even a vote for everybody, people were shooting down our streets, doors were being kicked in, houses burned, the civil rights movement was shot off the streets. I felt there was no choice.
“But you can’t plan a revolution after it’s already taken place. It’s pie in the sky. And they can’t derail the process, even if they shoot me or a unionist leader.”
Refusing to condemn the IRA groups, Geraldine Taylor, vice-president Republican Sinn Fein, said the peace process had already failed.
“The process isn’t going anywhere, the only discussion is about implementing British rule and British law.”