Cops staked out dissident arms dump for a month
The Sunday World understands dissident terror chiefs abandoned the cache after being tipped off anyone going to Capanagh Forest would be walking into a trap.
Police described the find near Larne as “one of the most significant seizures’ of recent years but it is understood a plot to land an even bigger prize was foiled when the paramilitary bosses rumbled their plan.
Dissident republican sources told us they were warned cops had staked out the hide and were planning a spectacular arrest operation at the scene.
Cops now believe they may have been double crossed by a mole operating inside the dissident network.
The haul was reported to have been found by members of the public who spotted suspicious looking objects on the forest floor while out for a walk. But it is understood the dump’s existence had been known to police for up to four weeks.
Acting on intelligence police placed the secret dump under round the clock surveillance but when it became clear dissident operatives were not going to show up they made the discovery public.
The Sunday World can reveal the few people within dissident ranks who were aware of the dump’s existence were warned to stay away.
“The decision was made to write off the gear,” said our source.
“The site had been compromised and anyone going to collect any of it would have been walking themselves into a prison cell.”
He said there will be concern as to how police were tipped off but terror bosses are looking on the incident as a small victory. They managed to avoid arrests because they had managed to turn the tables on the security forces.
Dissident groups have struggled to contain a flow of information from within their own ranks. The police have scored a series of spectacular successes in foiling terror attacks as the organisations were riddled with informants but now they have managed to reverse the trend.
This week police put on show three barrels found to have been buried at the little known beauty spot each containing a bewildering array of weaponry:
•Two claymore anti-personnel mines
•A number of pipe bombs
•Quantities of explosives and ammunition
•Component parts to constructed ‘dozens’ of explosive devices.
•Magazines and ammo for an assault rifle
•An armour piercing rocket launcher
And while none was found at Capanagh Forest, it is known the New IRA has obtained quantities of Semtex.
The find is significant as it had been thought dissident groups had been struggling to build up their armoury and it also points to an increased capability to construct bombs.
Coming in the wake of fresh warnings that the New IRA and other hardline groups were poised to intensify their campaigns it will cause alarm within the security and intelligence community.
The suggestion that two walkers simply stumbled on the arms find was viewed with suspicion from the start. Security sources have confirmed the discovery was ‘almost certainly’ the result of intelligence.
“These dumps are hidden for a reason,” a security source told us.
“You don’t just come across them while you’re out walking the dog, police will have found this because of reliable information, there was nothing lucky about this.”
Det. Supt Kevin Geddes, from the serious crime branch, said the find had undoubtedly saved lives and confirmed they were investigating a possible link to a previous arms find at nearby Carnfunnock in March.
On that occasion the smaller find is believed to have been left ready to collect for an immediate attack on a target in the Larne area.
“There are links in terms of the general location and the manner and method of storage and packaging of these munitions.”
The New IRA, Continuity IRA and Óglaigh na hÉireann have all warned that they intend to step up their campaigns. Rank-and-file police officers are on a high state of alert as the three main hardline republican paramilitary groups target them for assassination.
Police figures show a sharp increase in the number of bomb attacks across the Province – 52 in the last 12 months compared to 36 the previous year. Prison officer Adrian Ismay died days after serious injuries sustained in a car bomb attack at his home in east Belfast in March.
And as previously revealed by the Sunday World a reconstructed New IRA has a list of up to 15 potential targets – believed to be police and prison officers. The organisation has tightened its structures with only those directly involved in any attacks being aware of the details.
The slightest suspicion that an operation may be compromised and it is called off.
Security sources have told the Sunday World that police are concerned dissident groups, the New IRA in particular, have upped their game.
The PSNI is being backed up by MI5 and a squad of undercover operatives moved into Northern Ireland from Britain with the specific aim of gathering intelligence on planned attacks.
Sources have told us they are already on the ground.
Det. Supt Geddes urged anyone with information to come forward.
“The threat level in Northern Ireland from dissident republican groups remains severe, which means an attack is highly likely.
“It is vital that people remain vigilant, wherever they are and whatever they are doing.
“We will continue to work to keep people safe and would ask anyone with information about suspicious activity or objects anywhere in Northern Ireland to contact police.”