'Threat to democracy': Bombs and firearms discovered during UVF investigation in East Belfast

'Threat to democracy': Bombs and firearms discovered during UVF investigation in East Belfast

GUNS, bombs, ammunition and UVF paraphernalia have been discovered by police carrying out an investigation into the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Four people were arrested as part of the operation, which was led by officers from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force.

Commenting on the operation, Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Hill slammed the 'reckless actions of paramilitaries', who had put people's lives at risk.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly labelled the paramilitaries as 'a threat to democracy'.

Viable devices

The pre-planned operation into suspected criminal paramilitary activity involving the East Belfast UVF was carried out over Friday and Saturday.

Searches were conducted at three residential properties and one business premises in the Lower Newtownards Road area.

"During the searches we found eight firearms, a large quantity of assorted ammunition, three pipe bombs which we suspect are viable, balaclavas and UVF flags and emblems," said DCS Hill.

Eight firearms were recovered (Image: PSNI)

"Two vehicles were also seized."

He added: "The storing of these weapons in residential areas demonstrates the reckless actions of paramilitaries who do not care who they put at risk.

"East Belfast UVF continues to be involved in a range of paramilitary crime, including violence, intimidation, money laundering and drug dealing — causing harm to their own communities.

"The Paramilitary Crime Task Force remains committed to the relentless pursuit of East Belfast UVF to tackle the harm they pose to local people."

Four men, aged 34, 47, 49 and 51, were arrested and are being questioned by detectives.

'Deeply concerning'

Mr Kelly, Sinn Féin's policing spokesperson, said the discovery was worrying, coming as it did in the wake of threats against Irish politicians.

"Reports that police have found guns and pipe bombs belonging to the UVF today is deeply concerning," he said.

"I welcome the fact that these weapons have been taken off the streets.

"The continued stance of these armed loyalist gangs poses a direct threat to our democracy.

Three pipe bombs were recovered (Image: PSNI)

"This latest seizure should be seen in the context of other recent weapons finds, as well as threats to Irish government ministers.

"It is now almost 25 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

"There is no place in our society for armed groups that are actively involved in drug dealing, extortion, racketeering, threats and murder.

"They should disband now and leave the whole community in peace.

"There is an onus on all political leaders to call out this outrageous activity and call for an immediate end to the existence of these groups."

Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.