Anti-ceasefire Republicans have stolen up to 30 high-powered rifles with telescopic sights that can be used in sniper attacks against the security forces in Northern Ireland, the Guardian has learned.
The theft of the long-range rifles has raised the specter of a new lethal sniper campaign similar to the one the South Armagh Provisional IRA conducted that resulted in the deaths of several soldiers and policemen in the 1990s. A security operation is still ongoing in the Irish Republic to track down the weapons, which can hit a target from more than 800m away and are normally used to shoot deer.
The British Army’s last casualty in Northern Ireland died after being hit by a high velocity bullet fired from a sniper’s rifle in 1997 near the border with the Republic.
The Garda Siochana has confirmed that their officers in County Wicklow are investigating the theft of firearms during a break-in at a gun dealer’s premises in Ashford on Sept. 8.
The Guardian has learned that up to 30 rifles with telescopic sights may have been taken in a highly organized robbery at the gun shop in the town. It is understood only two of the weapons taken have been recovered so far.
Security sources in Northern Ireland say the gang behind the break-in was organized by a terror unit controlled by the late Real IRA commander in Dublin, Alan Ryan.
They say the fact that almost all of the weapons are still at large is causing a major security headache on both sides of the Irish border. The guns have been handed over to a new self-styled IRA which is an amalgam of the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and various armed dissident republican units in Tyrone, Derry, Armagh and Antrim, the security forces say.
Garda sources are linking raids over the last two weeks in the greater Dublin area to a desperate attempt to recover the rifles before they are smuggled across the border.