The seizure of weapons and ammunition in a series of police swoops in Northern Ireland has dealt a significant blow to the capacity of dissident republicans, a detective has said.
Community information led police to many of the arms found in 13 searches in counties Tyrone and Armagh in a 12-day period, Detective Superintendent John McVea said.
The total haul recovered included two shotguns and four handguns, explosives, fertiliser, ammunition, tools, an improvised detonator, a suspected mortar tube, component parts for bomb making, mobile phones and other terrorist paraphernalia.
The searches were focused on the Kilwilkie estate in Lurgan, Co Armagh, and Benburb in Co Tyrone.
Police believe the weapons belonged to two separate dissident organisations – with the explosives recovered in Benburb belonging to the little known grouping Arm na Poblachta (army of the republic) and the remainder of the weapons controlled by the Continuity IRA in Lurgan.
Many of these highly dangerous items were found in locations where members of the public could easily have come across them.John McVea
No one has been charged in connection with the items recovered but police expect to progress their investigation once forensic tests are completed.
As well as searches at eight houses and two derelict properties, items were also recovered from the derelict site of St Michael’s High School in Lurgan and in fields and hedgerows near St Coleman’s Cemetery in the town.
“We have recovered a significant amount of dangerous weapons,” said Mr McVea, who works in the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Terrorism Investigation Unit.
“These are all designed to do one thing – to murder.
“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 these communities.”
Mr McVea noted that the discovery in Lurgan marked the second haul of Continuity IRA weapons seized in Lurgan in recent years.
“This further loss to them is significant and shows… in many ways some inability to stockpile large quantities of weapons,” he said.
A rusty pipe bomb found on Tarry Drive in Lurgan was placed beside a nursery school.
“Who in their right mind would put the lives of young children at risk?” said the detective.
“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 added: “The searches also send a clear message to those involved in terrorism that we will continue to disrupt their heinous activities so that our communities can live in peace and without fear. They do not want you in their midst putting their lives and those of their children at risk.”