Several members of the leadership of the South East Antrim UDA were among those arrested in a major crackdown on the loyalist paramilitary organisation yesterday.
Five men were arrested as part of a dawn raid, involving more than 80 officers and six warrants, as the PSNI come under increasing pressure to move on the paramilitary gang, which has been linked to the murder of Carrickfergus man Glenn Quinn.
The suspects, aged 33, 38, 39, 40 and 43, have all been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to supply Class A drugs.
Among those arrested were two men alleged to be in the leadership of the breakaway UDA organisation, which is heavily involved in drugs and criminality.
One of those men lives in a house so heavily fortified that police had to bring in specialist cutting equipment to gain access to the property.
The joint operation between the Paramilitary Crime Task Force and National Crime Agency is said to be part of a long-running operation into the alleged organised crime activities of the South East Antrim UDA.
All five suspects are being held at Musgrave Police Station.
The arrests are linked to the seizure of more than one kilogram of cocaine found in two parked cars and nearby land in the Greenisland area of Co Antrim in November 2020.
The area sits around three miles from the SEA UDA power base in Carrickfergus, where the gang have been linked to ongoing intimidation, extortion, violence and drug dealing.
Director of investigations for the NCA, Craig Naylor, said the operation was "hugely significant" and would have "substantially disrupted" the activities of the South East Antrim UDA.
"The South East Antrim UDA have long known to be involved in many forms of organised criminality, doing untold damage to the community and exerting fear in neighbourhoods".
Detective Chief Superintendent John McVea, head of the PSNI's criminal investigations branch, said that the crackdown was in response from appeals from the local community.
He said the PSNI intended to "disrupt and frustrate those who continue to do the greatest harm to the people living in our communities".
South East Antrim UDA, once controlled by ruthless loyalist John 'Grug' Gregg, himself shot dead during a 2003 feud, is now thought to be one of the biggest criminal gangs in the UK.
They have been linked to numerous murders, most recently that of terminally ill Glenn Quinn, beaten to death in his flat in January 2020.
The 47-year-old, who had no connections to the paramilitary organisation, was attacked by three people with baseball bats and an iron bar, after expressing concerns about the ongoing intimidating of a local businessman. He suffered horrific head and facial injuries.
In May last year threats issued to politicians and journalist were purported to come from the SEA UDA. First Minister Arlene Foster, SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, UUP leader Steve Aiken and party colleague Doug Beattie, along with Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry were all warned by police that they had been issued with threats.
A number of journalists were warned of threats said to be from the UDA faction.