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Terrorism expert warns smugglers could sell 'tank killer' missiles to Irish paramilitaries

Former PSNI superintendent Ken Pennington said around 17,000 of the NLAW missile systems were unaccounted for

A Ukrainian soldier with an NLAW missile system

John Toner

Thousands of Belfast-made ‘tank killer’ missiles sent to Ukraine could end up in the hands of local gangsters and terrorists, a counter-terrorism expert has warned.

Former PSNI superintendent Ken Pennington said around 17,000 of the NLAW missile systems were unaccounted for.

He told us the weapons could be smuggled out and end up in the hands of groups such as the UVF, UDA and dissident republicans.

Mr Pennington said: “There is a danger that high-tech, combat-grade weapons and equipment could flow out of the conflict and into the hands of criminals and terrorists across Europe, including here.

“If you look at Ukraine and the NLAW system, there’s about 17,000 of those missiles there right now.

“They’re not issued against receipt, so we don’t know where they are. There will be equipment lying in fields and there will be disaffected conscripts with money problems selling equipment.

“That is why I’ve been trying to motivate multinational organisations to get a grip on human trafficking because as bad as it is — and it’s a terrible crime — it’s also going to get some of the most sophisticated weaponry out of Ukraine via organised crime.”

Mr Pennington flew out to the country recently to help get supplies in and orphaned children out.

The former close protection officer worked in the fight against human trafficking before moving to counter-terrorism. He now works with charities and NGOs to fight people smugglers.

He said that stopping human trafficking gangs was vital in disrupting the potential trade in illegal weaponry.

“My role was to co-ordinate the convoys taking in supplies like food and first aid, then once they had delivered those supplies, I co-ordinated them getting orphans out of Ukraine and into Poland,” he said of his recent trip.

“I was training the drivers on how to run convoys so that they don’t attract the attention of the Russians.

“[I was] also working with the charities to give them rudimentary safety training.

“There’s a real danger that if the right people can’t get these children out, traffickers will. It was part of my role to try and ensure that doesn’t happen.

“One of the issues is that human trafficking is seen as a low-risk, high-profit opportunity by criminals. The only difference between the two is terrorists like to have a story to justify their crimes, whereas organised criminals don’t. They just care about the money.

“The problem is the people who learn to move people can learn to move anything, including drugs, firearms, cash and weapons.”

Former PSNI superintendent Ken Pennington

After returning to Northern Ireland from the war-torn country, Mr Pennington described the devastation he witnessed at the border and paid tribute to the courageous charity workers he volunteered alongside.

He said: “Heading out there was very short notice. I was asked and a couple of hours later I was on a flight out of Dublin to Warsaw.

“What I saw was a mixture of bravery and misery. There are some fantastic volunteers working tirelessly out there, but it’s crowded and chaotic in the west of the country, especially in Lviv.

“The border itself is very traumatising. It’s like something out of a movie when you’re seeing cars being abandoned, queues kilometres long, kids walking with their toys in their pyjamas in the snow while it’s minus 10 degrees.

“It’s terrible — that’s the misery side of it.

“This is a completely unnecessary catastrophe in Europe, but the work of some of the people out there is amazing.

“Most of the people I worked with out there were females. They are some of the bravest people I have ever met.

“They were being threatened by some very serious gangs and didn’t flinch. They are at the forefront of preventing human trafficking.

“Because I had worked with them before in different places, they asked for my help. I was happy to oblige.”

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