A dissident republican weapons haul has been discovered in a residential boiler house that caught fire in Belfast, police have said.
Two AK47 assault rifles, two sawn-off shot guns, a high-powered rifle with a silencer fitted, three pipe bombs and more than 100 assorted rounds of ammunition were stored in the building that went on fire on Rodney Drive in west Belfast on Wednesday.
Police believe the weapons belonged to the so-called New IRA and may have been stored in the outhouse without the knowledge of the home owner.
Detectives believe the AK47s may have been used in murder bids against police officers in Belfast in 2015 and 2017.
Detective Superintendent John McVea, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s terrorism investigation unit, told a media conference in Belfast: “We firmly believe these weapons belong to the new IRA.”
He said the weapons had been stored on top of the hot boiler.
“It beggars belief that anyone would store items as volatile as bombs and bullets in a hot environment,” he said. “This is simply reckless, it is stupid and it shows total disregard for the safety of local residents.
“Anyone with an ounce of sense would have known that live ammunition and pipe bombs mixed with heat is a recipe for carnage.”
Police believe the AK47s may have been used in two separate dissident attack on police - one in the Rossnareen Avenue area of west Belfast in November 2015 and the other on a garage forecourt on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast in January 2017.
In the first attack, a police car patrolling Rossnareen Avenue was riddled with up to eight rounds of bullets.
Armoured plating and bulletproof glass was credited with saving the lives of the two officers inside the vehicle when they were ambushed.
In the second attack, a policeman survived despite being shot three times in the arm when gunmen opened fire on him as he got out of a parked police car at the Crumlin Road garage.
Officers said it was miracle no members of the public were also shot as bullets flew across the busy petrol station forecourt.
Mr McVea said: “The Crumlin Road shooting in particular was reckless and showed total disregard for members of the public as bullets entered the filling station shop narrowly missing customers and passing motorists.”
The detective said he believed the weapons were moved into the boiler house on Monday evening after 9pm.
He urged anyone who saw anything suspicious in the alleyway behind Rodney Drive to come forward.
“We are lucky there hasn’t been significant injury as the fire developed,” he said.
Mr McVea said the violent renegades who owned the weapons were “beneath contempt”.
“I am asking the community to stand up against these parasites,” he added.
Mr McVea said it was possible the resident of the property was unaware and had been “exploited” by the terrorists.
The detective said a neighbour first reported the fire, with the occupant of the house then also calling the emergency services to alert them to the blaze.
A 35-year-old man who was arrested under the Terrorism Act on Wednesday was subsequently released unconditionally.
Mr McVea said the cause of the blaze was still under investigation but he did not rule out that one of the weapons stored on top of the boiler had sparked it.