Irish dissidents are in possession of deadly infrared bomb technology that according to experts may show links between republican groups and the Taliban, and lays open an older story of the IRA's involvement with violence in the Middle East.

Recently, police in Armagh foiled a plan by dissidents in Cullyhanna to bring down a helicopter using a mortar remotely detonated by an infrared laser, reports the Independent on Sunday.

Officials have reacted with shock, claiming that weapons so sophisticated have never been found in the hands of terrorists in the region before.

"This is a different level of terrorism. When it comes to the sophistication, when it comes to the technological detail, these are things that have never been seen in Northern Ireland," said MP Jim Shannon.

He said that the discovery confirmed links between contacts in Pakistan and Afghanistan and those who manufactured the bomb.

According to Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, the discovery showed that "information exchange" may be taking place between dissidents and the Taliban. "We did see in the past co-operation between Islamist extremists in the Middle East and the Provisional IRA."

Patrick Mercer, MP, who served with the army in Northern Ireland, said that the technology could have been developed by a current or former serviceman.

"There are many Irishmen serving in all branches of the services. It's not unknown for loyalties to be split," he told the paper.

However, closer investigation shows the story to be more complex.

In 2005 the Independent reported that bombs triggered with infrared beams were used to kill eight British soldiers serving in Iraq.

The British government claimed that this technology was passed to Iraqi insurgents by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

However a British security source told the paper that the technology was initially developed by the IRA, and reached the Middle East through IRA collusion with Palestinian militant groups.

The source further alleged that the technology was leaked to the IRA by British security forces as part of a botched security operation and was used to kill a policewoman in 1992.

Whether the groups are using technology developed with Taliban help, or utilising skills they introduced to the Middle East themselves, experts are agreed that it marks a new phase of deadly intent by dissident groups, with 16 bomb attacks having been launched by the New IRA and other groups disillusioned with the peace process in Northern Ireland over recent weeks.

Professor Richard English, a terrorism expert at the University of St Andrews, said: "Given the capacity which seems to be emerging from the dissident republicans, it would be surprising if there were not more fatalities in the near future in Northern Ireland. The conditions are there for a sustained, occasionally very lethal, republican bombing campaign."