A military expert and a Northern Ireland politician have claimed dissident Republicans are colluding with the Taliban to gain access to advanced weaponry never before seen in Ulster.

Democratic Unionist MP Jim Shannon and Independent MP Patrick Mercer, a former British Army officer, have backed the theory in the wake of recent dissident attacks in security forces.

The Sunday Independent newspaper reports that Shannon believes Taliban-inspired technology is ‘boosting’ the capacity of dissident republicans to wage war after the discovery of advanced weaponry never seen before in the North.

Experts say the degree of technical sophistication is ‘unprecedented’ and warn that it is part of a worsening picture that could include a sustained bombing campaign.

The claims were made after police foiled an attack in South Armagh using two mortar type devices.

Dissidents had planned to bring down a helicopter using rocket launchers which took army bomb disposal experts three days to examine.

Shannon has met with the security forces and says the weaponry, found in August, was unlike anything seen in Northern Ireland before. It can be detonated remotely using an infrared laser, a tactic used by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

MP Shannon said: “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.

“The deeply worrying discovery confirmed that there are links between people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and those that made the bomb and mortar attack weapon in Cullyhanna.”

Independent MP Mercer, a former army officer who has served in Northern Ireland, has speculated that military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq may be responsible for passing on details about the technology.

He said: “I have heard about this. This is all to do with light-sensitive devices. But of course it’s no more or less than the fact that they’ve got people coming back from Afghanistan who have served over there who are able to pass on this expertise.

“There are many Irishmen serving in all branches of the services. It’s not unknown for loyalties to be split.”

Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told the paper that dialogue between dissidents and the Taliban is possible.

He said: “We did see in the past co-operation between Islamist extremists in the Middle East and the Provisional IRA.