By politics.co.uk staff
Republican paramilitaries have targeted the Conservative conference in Birmingham for a terror operation, sources in Northern Ireland have said.
In a warning with echoes of 1984, when the Brighton bomb killed several Tory conference delegates and nearly succeeded in assassinating the prime minister, former senior police and army officers have informed Patrick Mercer that dissident splinter groups have discussed hitting this year's gathering.
Mr Mercer, former chairman of the Commons counter-terrorism subcommittee, said the attack on David Cameron's first conference as prime minister was being planned as the climax of a series of actions starting in late August.
"They want to kill by the end of August in order to get themselves poised for whatever operations they can mount in September leading up to the Tory party conference in early October," he said.
"There are doubts over whether they have the capability, but the aspiration is certainly there and West Midlands police would be crazy not to take the threat seriously."
Northern Ireland secretary Own Paterson said the government was monitoring the situation.
"We have made a substantial number of arrests and we are bearing down on them," he said. "But we do not underestimate the threat they represent."