Fears that groups are equipped to carry out another Omagh style attack are heightened
Dissident republican groups who carried out recent murders in Northern Ireland have built up an extensive supply of weapons from eastern Europe, according to the intelligence services. It is now feared their capability to make large bombs, similar to the one that killed 29 people in Omagh in 1998, has been underestimated.
Senior figures in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and garda headquarters now fear that the Continuity IRA (CIRA), the Real IRA (RIRA) and Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH), a faction of the RIRA, have the means to mount a sustained terrorist campaign.
The weapons include AK-47 assault rifles, machine-guns and small arms. The groups, which murdered two British soldiers and a police officer two weeks ago, also have access to plastic explosives.
Of the three groups, ONH poses the most significant threat, according to the intelligence services. "It has at least one active service unit which is capable of constructing large car bombs," said one security source. "It is better organised than previously thought and is structured to avoid infiltration by informers."
The RIRA is believed to have built up a sizable arsenal since 2006 and is continuing to source weapons. It has bought guns from dealers in Tirana, the Albanian capital.
Crime and Security, the gardaís spying agency, believes the weapons, purchased for as little as $5 (Ä3.50) each, were smuggled in small quantities over the past three years. Gardai believe some weapons were stolen from the Albanian defence forces but others were obtained from former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
ONH is understood to possess a similar array of weapons, including rocket-launchers and AK-47s. These are thought to be held in arms dumps in Armagh, Tyrone, north Dublin, Meath and Louth. It also retains some arms imported from the Balkans in 2000.
Like the RIRA, ONH has imported several consignments of weapons thought to have been obtained through contacts in Amsterdam.
The CIRA has not organised any significant arms smuggling, according to security sources, but it has a "limited" military capability.
"RIRA and ONH are buying weapons, sometimes two pieces at a time, through third parties," said a security source. "While they havenít hundreds of guns, they have enough to sustain a terrorist campaign for the foreseeable future."
Ex-IRA man is gun suspect
A former IRA bomb-maker is among the suspects for the murder of Liam Murray, the mechanic found shot dead at his home in Rathfarnham in south Dublin on Friday morning.
The 42-year-old was in a long-running dispute with the former terrorist over a business deal, according to gardai. The suspect was released from prison under the Good Friday agreement, having been sentenced by a British court for taking part in a bombing campaign.
Gardai are also looking at whether Murray died as the result of a pub brawl. He had been in several bar fights in recent weeks.
Gardai suspect he was shot in his bed by a hitman, possibly while he slept. A source said: "Murders donít get more professional and cold-blooded than that."