Arrested Royal Marine Ciaran Maxwell 'beaten by Larne loyalists in 2002'
Royal Marine Ciaran Maxwell is being questioned by detectives investigating Northern Ireland-linked terrorism, understood to be connected to two major dissident republican arms finds.
Mr Maxwell, 30, from Larne, Co Antrim, was arrested in a pre-planned anti-terror probe swoop on Wednesday.
It is understood the operation is linked to the discovery of two dissident arsenals in woodland in Northern Ireland earlier this year.
It has emerged that as a 16-year-old, Maxwell was the victim of a savage sectarian beating in his home town.
He sustained a fractured skull and suffered multiple other injuries when a gang of loyalists attacked him with iron bars and golf clubs.
During his recovery he recounted the incident to republican newspaper An Phoblacht in an article that was accompanied by a picture showing the extent of his injuries.
The paper said: "He was struck by a bottle and fell under the blow. Kieran struggled to his feet and despite losing a shoe, tried to run away. At this point up to ten loyalists arrived in two cars. This gang was armed with iron bars and golf clubs and they immediately attacked Kieran. He was beaten to the ground and lost consciousness.”
According to the paper, eyewitnesses said that loyalists appeared to have been waiting in ambush and kept beating Ciaran "as he lay prone on the ground".
One local man told the Larne Times: "Ciaran is from a mixed background, his mother is Catholic and dad is Protestant.
"He grew up in the Seacourt estate and was absolutely tortured by the UDA when he was a teenager.
"He was regularly chased off the street by loyalists. On one occasion they gave him a very bad beating and left him in a very bad way."
Wednesday's arrest operation involved searches at a house and wooded area in south Devon.
Searches at the property in Exminster and nearby Powderham New Plantation woods continued on Thursday.
In Northern Ireland, officers searched a number of properties in Larne on Wednesday - near the two forest parks where the weapons dumps were unearthed earlier this year.
Maxwell is being detained on suspicion of preparation for acts of terrorism.
While the threat posed by violent dissident republicans in Northern Ireland has been classified as severe for a number of years, in May the UK intelligence services raised the threat level in Great Britain from moderate to substantial.
Two separate hauls of weapons were discovered in Carnfunnock and Capanagh parks within three months of each other.
An armour-piercing improvised rocket and two anti-personnel mines were among the cache recovered at Capanagh in May.
Several pipe bombs, magazines and ammunition for an assault rifle as well as bomb component parts and command wires were also concealed in barrels in purpose-built holes in woodland.
In March, bomb-making items were found at nearby Carnfunnock Country Park.
Police said four barrels were unearthed at Carnfunnock - two barrels were empty but two contained a variety of bomb-making components, including wiring, toggle switches, circuit boards, partially constructed timer power units, ball bearings and a small quantity of explosives.
Larne is predominantly unionist/loyalist in community make-up, so the discovery of the finds led to some initial speculation that they could be linked to loyalist paramilitaries. However, after assessing the nature of the weaponry, police concluded they most likely belonged to dissident republicans.
The extremists intent on bringing about a united Ireland by violent means are small in both number and capacity compared with the republican paramilitary organisations of the Troubles, but they retain the ability to launch deadly if sporadic attacks on the security forces.
Since 2009 dissidents have murdered two soldiers, two policemen and two prison officers in Northern Ireland.
The searches at the property in Exminster have being carried out by the Metropolitan Police Service's Counter Terrorism Command and local uniformed officers.
Powderham New Plantation wooded area has been cordoned off by Police Service of Northern Ireland officers.
Detective Chief Inspector Antony Hart, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: "Local officers will be in the Exminster area and will be speaking to residents to help offer reassurance.
"Searches are expected to continue throughout the weekend at the property in question. Searches are also continuing at the nearby wooded area.
"Road closures will be in place on some of the minor roads surrounding the wooded area and are also expected to remain in place throughout the weekend.
"We apologise for any inconvenience this will cause and thank the public for their patience."
Belfast Telegraph Digital