Extremist terrorist group formed in 1998 and composed largely of Protestant hardliners from loyalist groups observing a cease-fire. Red Hand Defenders seeks to prevent a political settlement with Irish nationalists by attacking Catholic civilian interests in Northern Ireland. In January 2002, the group announced all staff at Catholic schools in Belfast and Catholic postal workers were legitimate targets. Despite calls in February by the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), and Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) to announce its disbandment, RHD continued to make threats and issue claims of responsibility. RHD is a cover name often used by elements of the banned UDA and LVF.
In recent years, the group has carried out numerous pipe bombings and arson attacks against “soft” civilian targets such as homes, churches, and private businesses. In January 2002, the group bombed the home of a prison official in North Belfast. Twice in 2002 the group claimed responsibility for attacks—the murder of a Catholic postman and Catholic teenager—that were later claimed by the UDA-UFF, further blurring distinctions between the groups. In 2001, RHD claimed responsibility for killing five persons.
Up to 20 members, some of whom have experience in terrorist tactics and bombmaking. Police arrested one member in June 2001 for making a hoax bomb threat.