A series of arms seizures has delivered a significant blow to dissident republican terrorists, a senior police officer said yesterday.
Detective Superintendent John McVea revealed that guns, explosives and bomb-making equipment were found during 12 days of searches in Lurgan and Benburb.
He said the majority of the items belonged to the Continuity IRA with another dissident group, Arm na Poblachta (ANP), thought to be responsible for items recovered in the Carrickaness Road area of Benburb on May 3.
It is not believed the two groups are working together at this stage.
The senior officer said: "The weapons do appear to have some age to them, I think it is significant in light of the amount of weapons taken off the Continuity IRA in recent years, that this further loss is significant and shows their inability to stockpile large quantities of weapons ... so this will have a substantial impact on their ability."
Despite the number of weapons found, Mr McVea said he did not believe they showed an escalation of dissident republican activity or an increased ability to find arms.
He said: "It does show the police remain committed to tackling terrorism in local communities and there has been a significant disruption to a group, particularly the CIRA."
No charges have been made against any individuals as yet, but a forensic examination of the items and investigation into who owned them is ongoing. Det Supt McVea from the PSNI's Terrorism Investigation Unit hit out at the terrorists for risking the safety of people living close to where the weapons were hidden.
He said: "Many of these highly dangerous items were found in locations where members of the public could easily have come across them. This demonstrates the sheer recklessness and absolute lack of concern these terrorists have about harming people living in their communities."
The senior officer said he was particularly "sickened" that an uncovered pipe bomb was left beside a nursery school and community centre in the Tarry Drive area of Lurgan.
He said: "Who in their right mind would put the lives of young children at risk?
"I do not know how long it has been lying there so the reality is that parents have been walking past this twice a day while taking their children to and from nursery," he said.
"If it had detonated, it would almost certainly have killed or at the very least caused serious injury to a child.
"This clearly shows how reckless these terrorists are - they do not care if they harm people living in their own communities," he added.
The senior detective thanked residents for their patience during the searches, particularly those who cared for vulnerable people when the device was discovered in Lurgan.
Det Supt McVea said the operations were possible after information was passed directly to police from the local community.
"The searches also send a clear message to those involved in terrorism that we will continue to disrupt their evil activities so that our communities can live in peace and without fear," he said.
"They do not want you in their midst, putting their lives and those of their children at risk," he said.
"We will carry on working with the local community to take these shameful people off our streets and keep people safe.
"These recent events have shown how great results can be achieved when police and the community work together."
Police have appealed for anyone with information on the items or suspicious activity to contact police on the non-emergency number 101 or by contacting the independent charity Crimestoppers by calling 0800 555 111.
During searches of properties in Lurgan and Co Tyrone at the end of April and between May 3 and 8, detectives from the Terrorism Investigation Unit seized guns and a significant quantity of bomb-making related material.