Members of the South East Antrim UDA warned business owners to shut their premises early or risk being attacked ahead of a weekend of carefully planned violence.
It is understood that members of the paramilitary group visited businesses in Newtownabbey and told them that a riot was going to take place and to close early. Police were made aware of the actions of the breakaway loyalist group.
Sources confirmed that senior officers have been “reaching out” to loyalists perceived to have influence to try and calm the situation, worried that violence may spread to other areas.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Davy Beck confirmed the attacks on police were “clearly orchestrated”, saying the recent arrests of alleged senior members of the South East Antrim UDA may form part of the reason for the reaction in the Newtownabbey area.
“I believe that there’s a small group of disaffected criminal elements that are clearly involved in influencing young people, and I would appeal to young people in those areas not to allow this to happen,” he said.
“I think it’s also fair to say that there’s probably no coincidence to this. We have been successful in that area in respect of some of these criminal gangs. So I think that this perhaps has been a reaction from some of those people who are involved in criminality.”
Over 30 petrol bombs were thrown at police lines on Sunday evening, while five officers were injured during the sustained period of violence in Cloughfern and Carrickfergus.
It brings the total number of police injured in incidents in Derry, where children as young as 12 were involved, and Belfast over the Easter weekend to 32. One suffered a serious leg injury.
Chief Supt Beck said while police stand ready for further nights of unrest, he has urged community leaders to put a stop to it. The PSNI are concerned that the violence could spread to other areas of Northern Ireland.
On Monday masked men were seen marching through the streets of Portadown accompanied by a loyalist band.
The Portadown show of strength and accompanying parade, that had not been declared to the Parades Commission, was said by a senior Mid Ulster loyalist source to be the first of many planned for the next number of weeks.
“The gathering was peaceful but there was no 11/1 (application) and the message was clear, if the law doesn’t apply to republicans then it doesn’t apply to loyalists. These gatherings will be repeated in the coming days and weeks.
“Our community has had enough of two tier policing, the constant appeasement of republicans and most of all the Protocol will not be tolerated. The message from the men on the street was enough is enough.
“There are no plans for violence, but groups gathering and unnotified parades will continue and whatever comes from that, so be it.”
On Monday night Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd said the images of masked loyalists in Portadown was akin to scenes witnessed recently in Pitt Park in east Belfast.
Calling for calm he said: “Tonight’s so-called band parade in Portadown was led by masked men through the streets reminiscent of the scenes recently in Pitt Park in east Belfast when a loyalist mob went on a rampage to intimidate families out of their homes. Irresponsible and dangerous sabre rattling and reckless rhetoric from unionist politicians has seen tensions rise right across the community.”
The PSNI said they received a report about an “un-notified” parade and “enquiries are ongoing to establish the circumstances of this event”.
While the South East Antrim UDA are believed to be connected to some of the attacks on police in Newtownabbey, more sporadic outbreaks of violence in south Belfast on Friday and in the Waterside area of Derry over the last week are being linked to a network of fake online social media accounts.
The Belfast Telegraph understands police are looking at the IP addresses of a number of Facebook accounts that sprung up over the last few weeks dedicated to promoting protests. Loyalists say they are being run by a former loyalist prisoner aged in his 50s and his associate, a Co Down-based child sex offender.
The pair were responsible for promoting the Sandy Row protest. Local loyalists say the first they heard it was taking place was through a Facebook post.
The two also tried to organise a protest on Friday at a volatile interface in north Belfast. A Facebook post claimed that loyalists were to meet at the North Queen Street interface that links the loyalist Tigers Bay with the nationalist New Lodge. However, local community workers stepped in and prevented the protest from taking place.
Meanwhile on Monday night PSNI officers were attacked with stones after attending the scene where a suspicious object was discovered.
Police attended to protect a bomb disposal unit that was sent to the scene at the Templemore Road, in a predominantly nationalist part of Londonderry.
The incident was subsequently declared an “elaborate hoax”.