Larne forest terror cache find 'a major blow to dissident plans', say police
The discovery of an arms cache near Larne has been described as one of the "most significant seizures" in recent years in Northern Ireland.
The seizure of explosive devices, bomb parts and ammunition from Capanagh Forest outside the Co Antrim town at the weekend has dealt a "major blow" to dissident republican terror plans, it has been claimed.
Some of the weapons were primed and ready for use in a potentially murderous attack when they were uncovered.
The weapons were stashed in blue barrels and buried in purpose-built holes in the woods.
PSNI officers uncovered three barrels after two members of the public walking in the forest on Saturday evening noticed suspicious objects and contacted police.
Weapons inside the barrels included a missile known as an Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) which can destroy heavily armoured vehicles, two landmines and several pipe bombs.
Quantities of explosives, command wire and other bomb making parts were also discovered, alongside magazines and ammunition for an assault rifle.
Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes, from the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said the find "is one of the most significant seizures of explosives which police have made in recent years, both in terms of its size and its capability."
"A number of these devices were ready to be deployed. This seizure has undoubtedly saved lives," he added.
Police are probing a link between the weekend find and the discovery of bomb-making parts and explosives buried in nearby Carnfunnock Country Park in March.
"There are links in terms of the general location and the manner and method of storage and packaging of these munitions," said Mr Geddes.
"The fact that an Explosively Formed Projectile was recovered which has an armour-piercing capability means that one of our main lines of enquiry will focus on dissident republican terrorists. All these components will now be subjected to rigorous forensic testing in an effort to provide additional lines of enquiry," he added.
The detective said the recovery of the weapons haul "undoubtedly contributed to lives being saved."
"The threat level in Northern Ireland from dissident republican groups remains severe, which means an attack is highly likely. It is vital that people remain vigilant, wherever they are and whatever they are doing," he warned.
Mr Geddes added: "We will continue to work to keep people safe and would ask anyone with information about suspicious activity or objects anywhere in Northern Ireland to contact police.
"Once again, this seizure has demonstrated that when people provide us with information, we will act on it to ensure everyone in our community is kept safe."
A police source said the weapons find "has delivered a major blow to dissident republicans."
"The loss of these weapons will have frustrated their activities," he added.
Last week concern was raised over a 40% increase in bomb attacks in the province within the past year. In the past 12 months there were 52 bomb attacks - including the booby-trap that killed prison officer Adrian Ismay - compared to 36 incidents in 2014/15, according to PSNI statistics.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has welcomed the arms find.
She said on Twitter: "This significant find is v good news. Terrorists will not now be able to use potentially lethal items."