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GARDAÍ HAVE seized what they describe as the biggest haul of gangland weaponry in the history of the State following a four-month international operation into the activities of a leading Dublin criminal.
Forty-one firearms, mostly destined for crime gangs in Dublin and Limerick, were seized in the operation which involved police and customs from the Republic, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands. A small number of the weapons had been ordered by drugs gangs in the North.
The investigation, codenamed Operation Bench, also resulted in the seizure of heroin and cannabis valued at €4.2 million in a car near Dublin Airport yesterday. Some 27 weapons were found in the same vehicle with another 14 guns recovered in Belfast by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Ammunition for the weapons, totalling about 1,000 rounds, was also found.
The guns and drugs are believed to have originated in the Netherlands and were smuggled into the North before entering the Republic.
The haul, which has been linked to a member of John Gilligan's gang who is now acting as a drugs and guns wholesaler, was tracked en route to Ireland.
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern congratulated the Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and his force on what he called "a highly significant capture". The PSNI's Det Supt Essie Adair said yesterday's operation was "extremely significant".
The operation in the Republic involved the Garda National Drugs Unit, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Organised Crime Unit, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Emergency Response Unit.
As a gang member attempted to take delivery of 27 guns, 20kg of heroin and 10kg of cannabis herb at the Coachman's Inn between Swords and Dublin airport at 3pm yesterday, a team of armed gardaí moved in.
They arrested a 42-year-old from Tipperary. He is being questioned in Blanchardstown Garda station.
At the same time, police in the North carried out a search in a Belfast hotel. They arrested a Dublin man after finding guns and ammunition. He was being questioned at Antrim's serious crimes suite last night. The haul of weapons includes Glock machine pistols, Glock automatic handguns, Smith Wesson revolvers and Berettas.
The Dubliner arrested in Belfast is a close associate of a man who is currently serving a prison sentence in the Republic and who was a key member of the Gilligan gang. Gardaí believe the inmate was instrumental in sourcing the weapons and drugs in the Netherlands via a mobile phone smuggled into prison. Up to 15 searches have been carried out under Operation Bench on properties owned by people linked to the inmate.
Garda sources said the gang were acting as gun and drug wholesalers.
"In terms of the guns they would have picked the ones they wanted to hang on to and they would have sold on the others to whoever was going to buy the drugs off them," said one senior Garda source.
© 2008 The Irish Times
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