NEW IRA chiefs are bracing themselves for a string of arrests as detectives work their way through secret recordings of two meetings of the gang's 'Army Council'.
The summits, which were bugged by MI5 double agent Dennis McFadden, have led to nine dissidents being charged with directing terrorism, including prominent republicans Davy Jordan and Kevin Barry Murphy.
Others who were not present at the meetings but were named on the tapes are being targeted for arrest. Among these are the New IRA's Belfast boss Gary McNally, who was arrested by police last Monday before being freed without charge later that day.
The 61-year-old, who is an ex-Provisional IRA prisoner and originally from Strabane, took over as the New IRA's OC (Officer Commanding) in the city last year. This was after he left the violent ONH (Oglaigh na hEireann) dissident gang, having been instrumental in getting it to call a ceasefire.
After McNally was taken into custody, Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray, the head of the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said: "The arrest is part of Operation Arbacia, an ongoing investigation into the activities of the New IRA."
The following day, a 38-year-old man was arrested in north Belfast by the PSNI's Terrorism Investigation Unit as part of the same probe. He too was later released without charge.
Security sources described last week's operation as "the start of things to come", with more arrests planned over the coming months.
They confirmed that the names of the dissidents being targeted feature on MI5 recordings of two New IRA meetings held at leased rural properties in Co Tyrone last year.
The houses were rented by Scottish-born double agent Dennis McFadden, who infiltrated the New IRA for the security services and sat on the national executive of its political wing Saoradh.
He fled his home on the outskirts of north Belfast last summer shortly before cops arrested nine hardline republicans in early morning raids.
"The initial arrests last summer were of those at the meetings. They were easily identified on the recordings," a security source told Sunday Life.
"Last week's arrests, and those that will come in the near future, are of those who were not present at the meetings but who were named as being involved in the New IRA by those in attendance.
"Dennis McFadden has been debriefed, and his information, coupled with what was said on the recordings will, be enough to charge individuals, irrespective of whether they were at the (New IRA) meetings or not."
Publicly the New IRA is playing down the huge extent of McFadden's infiltration and betrayal, with political party Saoradh accusing the PSNI of "terrorising" the families of its members and "invading" homes.
But privately, its bosses are bracing themselves for more arrests, with the organisation in disarray and unable to mount attacks on police for more than six months.
"The harm caused by McFadden goes beyond nine people being arrested. It's also created a really damaging sense of paranoia," explained an insider.
"Republicans are questioning each other, asking why certain individuals have not been arrested while others have.
"There's a real feeling of distrust, to the point that the Derry brigade, under Thomas Mellon, is acting almost as a satellite unit which does its own thing."
Mellon - who is on a 10-year MI5 watchlist - briefly resigned from the New IRA last year after a row with its leadership. He accused them of allowing him to take the blame for the organisation's murder of journalist Lyra McKee in 2019.
Although persuaded to come back on board, he remains the target of internal critics who question why he did not attend the two New IRA leadership meetings bugged by MI5.
Mellon's gang is also the focus of intense scrutiny by the PSNI after this newspaper revealed republican gun gangs have crippled 31 people in punishment-style shootings in the Derry city area in the past five years.
In the past week, cops have arrested five men in connection with these attacks, making arrests in Derry, Dungiven and Limavady.
All of the suspects were later freed without charge.
The PSNI's Foyle district commander, Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones, told us: "Behind every shooting incident is a person who has been brutally injured because thugs with guns want to control their communities with fear and violence.
"It scars the partners and family members, and children who have witnessed these shootings over the years, and results in a lifetime of trauma for the victim."
The New IRA is responsible for the majority of the kneecappings that have occurred in Derry since 2016, with CS Jones branding the gang "criminals who have turned their guns on the communities where they live, mutilating a number of men".
He added: "Paramilitary-style assaults conducted by these groups exercise coercive control over the communities they claim to represent.
"We will continue to do all we can to remove paramilitaries and violent dissident republicans and their influence from our communities because that's what people want."