The PSNI has deployed 350 officers, supported by MI5 and the Garda, in the operation to catch the dissident republican killers of two soldiers and a PSNI constable, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.
According to a senior source, the scale of the investigation is an indication of the determination to deal with the dissident threat.
The Telegraph can reveal details of the massive police hunt to find the Real IRA gang which killed Sappers Mark Quinsey (23) and Patrick Azimkar (21) at Massereene Army Barracks on Saturday, and the CIRA terrorists who gunned down 48-year-old Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon on Monday night.
While senior police officers do not believe that the terror groups co-ordinated the two attacks, they do believe that the Craigavon attackers were motivated by the scale and impact of the Army barracks murders.
“One success spurred on the other,” a senior security source told this newspaper.
However, he added there was no suggestion of one group saying to the other: “We’ve got a Saturday spectacular. You get something for Monday.”
The details emerged as PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde was due to meet his Garda counterpart Commissioner Fachtna Murphy in Belfast to assess the security threat posed by dissident republicans.
The number of PSNI officers deployed does not include those involved in undercover surveillance duties.
The weekend killings at the Army barracks in Antrim have been described as a “classic assassination” — demonstrating a degree of training or a degree of experience on the part of the gunmen.
Asked if he believed those gunmen were from the Antrim area, the senior security source said: “No — that wouldn’t be the obvious lead. That wouldn’t be where the investigation is taking us.”
Detectives know the calibre and type of guns used, but they have not revealed the details of their history.
The source said the shooting in Craigavon was “of a different nature” — and it was “careful enough in its execution”.
In August last year, in the same town, dissidents fired four shots at a police cordon. Not a burst, but “four deliberate shots,” a security source said.
The source added that Monday’s attack in which Constable Carroll was murdered was “not a new modus-operandi” from the Continuity IRA.
Now, as part of the investigation, informants and other intelligence sources are being used to help identify the killers.
Dissident republicans are understood to be using eastern Europe and the criminal underworld in Dublin to try to arm their groups.
A security source said there are “guns available at a price”.
In that criminal underworld a Glock 9mm pistol with ammunition and magazines sells at €3,000.
“What is apparent is they [the dissidents] have spent a considerable amount of time around logistics, including cash to purchase,” the senior security source said.
“There is a constant effort on the part of the dissidents to obtain weapons.”
Those working in the intelligence world have a clear picture of the dissident leaderships.
“The leaders are identifiable to us,” the source said.“There are a couple of prominent ones here [in Northern Ireland], [but] the weight of the leadership resides in the south,” he added.
Yesterday a loyalist delegation including PUP MLA Dawn Purvis and former prisoners Billy Hutchinson and Tom Roberts met senior police officers including Sir Hugh Orde.
Ms Purvis — a former member of the Policing Board — said the police were making “good progress” in their investigations.
“They made it clear that they didn’t need to be distracted from that progress — that they needed to focus their energies and efforts on that investigation,” the Stormont politician said.
“Obviously they asked about the mood within loyalism,” she continued, adding that the police were told “there was absolutely, completely and utterly no desire to turn it back to the old days”.
In the past, loyalists have said the dissident republican threat is one of the reasons for lack of progress on the arms issue.