BELFAST, April 23 (Reuters) - Police in Northern Ireland said on Saturday they had stepped up security operations because they believed militant republican groups planned to kill more officers.
Police said they would increase patrolling and set up more road blocks, a day after a new breakaway group of former Irish Republican Army (IRA) militants claimed responsibility for the killing of a Catholic policeman three weeks ago. [ID:nLDE73L0GH]
Constable Ronan Kerr, 25, died when a bomb exploded under his car, the first police killing in the British-controlled province for two years and the latest in a surge of shootings and bombings targeting police by militant groups.
"We are taking these steps to keep communities and their officers safe. We would not do this if it was not absolutely necessary to protect life," a police statement said.
"Dissident terrorist groups are continuing to identify officers and target them with the single objective of killing them. ... their reckless actions will also put the lives of the wider community at risk."
The Easter holiday period is a traditional high point in the republican calendar with peaceful rallies across Ireland to commemorate the Easter 1916 uprising against British rule.
The police have rarely had to issue a statement over the holiday weekend since a 1998 peace deal mostly ended the violent period known as "The Troubles" that cost some 3,600 lives.
The accord largely halted the three-decade fight between mostly Catholic republican groups trying to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland and predominantly Protestant unionists who want it to remain part of the United Kingdom, but sporadic violence has been increasing.
A joint operation by police from both sides of the Irish border late on Friday led to the "significant" arrest of three men when a car was stopped in the Northern Irish county Armagh.
Police said they recovered a substantial number of weapons and ammunition when they stopped the car and arrested the men. (Reporting by Ian Graham, editing by Padraic Halpin and Tim Pearce)