Lives could be saved after Carnfunnock weapons haul: PSNI

Some of the bomb-making equipment found at the weekend at Carnfunnock Country Park near Larne

Some of the bomb-making equipment found at the weekend at Carnfunnock Country Park near Larne

The chance discovery of a terrorist weapons store buried in a forest park in Co Antrim has potentially saved lives, police have said.

Explosives and bomb-making parts were discovered in barrels unearthed in Carnfunnock Country Park near Larne at the weekend.

A member of the bomb squad looks for evidence at the scene of last Friday's attack in east Belfast

A member of the bomb squad looks for evidence at the scene of last Friday's attack in east Belfast

Police, who have warned of an upsurge in dissident republican activity in the run-up to the Easter Rising centenary, have now published images of the deadly cache seized.

Officers were alerted to the terror hide by a vigilant member of the public who spotted something suspicious while visiting the popular scenic location on Saturday.

The find came just over 24 hours after a dissident republican bomb injured a prison officer in east Belfast. A renegade group styling itself the New IRA has claimed responsibility.

Three men and woman arrested in connection with the bombing remained in police custody on Monday.

Police have yet to establish which paramilitary group owned the weapons found in Carnfunnock.

While dissident republican involvement is one main line of inquiry, detectives are retaining an open mind, primarily due to the fact the park is located in what would be considered a predominantly unionist area.

Police said four barrels were found – two barrels were empty but two contained a variety of bomb-making components, including wiring, toggle switches, circuit boards, partially constructed timer power units, ball bearings and a small quantity of explosives.

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Gillian Kearney said: “The seizure of these items has potentially saved lives. Our inquiries are progressing and a detailed forensic examination of all these items will take some time.

“At this stage, it is too early to attribute ownership of these materials to any particular grouping or individual. It is vital that people remain vigilant, wherever they are and whatever they are doing. We will continue to work to keep people safe and would ask anyone with information about suspicious, criminal or terrorist activity to contact police.

“As has been shown by the events of last weekend, if people provide us with information, we will act on it to ensure everyone is kept safe.”

In the days since Friday’s under-vehicle bomb attack, three viable explosives – understood to be pipe bombs – have been found in residential areas in Belfast and Londonderry.

Stormont’s Justice Minister David Ford has said the threat to prison officers in Northern Ireland is to be speedily reviewed after last week’s murder bid.

The target, a married father-of-three, 52, required surgery after an explosive device detonated under the van he was driving. His injuries were not as severe as first feared.

Mr Ford said: “He is the kind of citizen that this society needs, he is the kind of person who is of benefit to the public service, as well as to the wider community, and he is a fine person who had no reason to be attacked.”

The attack happened in the Hillsborough Drive area off Woodstock Road, a predominantly loyalist area in the east of the city, just after 7am on Friday.

The victim, a long-serving officer based at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre in south Belfast who works as a trainer for new recruits to the Northern Ireland Prison Service, had just left home to drive to work. His condition has been described as stable.

In a statement to the BBC, the New IRA said the officer was targeted because he was involved in training other guards at HMP Maghaberry, near Lisburn.

A spokesman said the officer was one of a number on a list of potential targets and the attack arose from a dispute over the treatment of dissident republican inmates.

The New IRA claimed to have used the plastic explosive Semtex and a commercial detonator in the attack.

Following the blast, police commanders expressed fears that it could be the first of a number of dissident attacks to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, when Irish republicans staged a rebellion against British rule in Dublin.