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Police carry out searches in Larne after Royal Marine is arrested over arms finds

By David Young, PA

Published 25/08/2016

Soldier Ciaran Maxwell was arrested in England in connection with dissident republican weapon hauls
Soldier Ciaran Maxwell was arrested in England in connection with dissident republican weapon hauls

A Royal Marine from Larne is being questioned by detectives investigating terrorism, understood to be connected to two major dissident republican arms finds.

The 30-year-old serviceman - named locally as Ciaran Maxwell - was arrested in a pre-planned swoop at his base near Taunton, Somerset, shortly after noon yesterday.

The operation involved searches at a house in Exminster and a wooded area nearby in south Devon.

In Northern Ireland officers simultaneously searched a number of properties in Larne, Co Antrim, near the two forest parks where the weapons dumps were discovered earlier this year. One of the properties searched is believed to belong to the arrested man.

Army bomb disposal officers were involved in the searches, and officers were seen taking a ladder inside and bringing bags of material out.

One eyewitness described seeing aerosol cans, computers and a metal documents case being carried.

The man was detained on suspicion of preparation for acts of terrorism. He is being held in a West Country police station for questioning.

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 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.

Councillor Paul Reid told the Belfast Telegraph that he had visited the scene of one of the Old Glenarm Road searches, just a few minutes from Larne town centre.

He said that he feared lives could have been put in danger, and neighbours had been very upset.

"The presence of the bomb disposal unit suggests there could have been something potentially fatal found. It beggars belief," he said.

"This is a main road into Larne, with a lot of traffic and is in a built-up area.

"It is a shock to hear that someone who took an oath to serve Queen and country has been arrested in relation to something that could have led to the death of his colleagues."

Larne is predominantly unionist 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 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.

A stretch of terraced homes on the Old Glenarm Road in Larne was the focus of the PSNI searches yesterday afternoon.

Loyalist flags flew on nearby properties.

There was a major police presence at the scene with Army bomb disposal units also in attendance.

Police forensic officers in white suits carried out detailed searches through the day.

Scotland Yard said the arrest in Somerset was carried out by officers from the Metropolitan Police Service's Counter Terrorism Command, supported by Avon and Somerset and Devon and Cornwall Police. It's understood MI5 was also involved.

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