A submachine gun and two assault rifles have been seized by police officers investigating paramilitary crime in Derry.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said officers also recovered a quantity of Class B drugs, counterfeit clothing and DVDs, around £13,000 in cash, phones, tablets and documentation, more than 7,000 illicit cigarettes and a quantity of hand-rolling tobacco during their searches.
Two men aged 44 and 43 have been arrested and remain in police custody.
A PSNI statement said on Tuesday: “Today, detectives from PSNI’s organised crime unit, supported by local police officers in the Derry/Londonderry area have carried out a major search operation in the fight against paramilitary crime.
“Two assault rifles and one submachine gun have been seized in relation to the investigation into INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) criminality.”
The statement said seven searches were carried out under the Terrorism Act and PSNI were supported by HMRC officers during the operation.
“As well as the weapons, a quantity of Class B drugs, counterfeit clothing and DVDs, approximately £13,000 in cash, phones, tablets, documentation, over 7000 illicit cigarettes and a quantity of hand-rolling tobacco (HRT) were also seized,” it said.
A further search was carried out in relation to the investigation in Derry led by HMRC and supported by the PSNI.
Gardaí carried out a search in Co Donegal, in which around 60,000 illicit cigarettes, a large quantity of tobacco, a large quantity of counterfeit clothing, DVDs and other items including money were seized.
District commander Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said: "The INLA in Derry/Londonderry and Strabane claim to be the protectors of their community but the reality is that they use violence and intimidation to control and exploit those communities.
“Weapons like the ones seized today pose a threat to everyone and anyone who brings guns on to our streets does not care about our community.
“When a gun is fired there is no guarantee where the bullet could end up or who it could harm, and the people of our city have seen the damage and devastation that this can cause.”
He added: “Many INLA members are also involved in a range of criminal money-making rackets including the supply of controlled drugs, blackmail, extortion and money laundering.
“Despite what they say, it is clear that they do not mind drug dealers operating in the local area — as long as they’re getting their ‘cut’ from the profits.
“The INLA are hypocrites allowing those supplying illegal drugs to continue ruining the lives of those with addiction so long as they pay up — and if they don’t they are threatened with severe violence and murder.
‘Lining their pockets’
“Local families suffer at the expense of INLA members lining their pockets.
“Furthermore, the INLA are heavily involved in the supply of counterfeit goods and illicit cigarettes and whilst the supply of these items may seem like victimless crimes, profits made from the sale of these items can help to fund INLA terrorism and criminality which brings misery and harm to the local community.”
"Through working closely with HMRC, An Garda Síochána and other partners, we will continue to tackle paramilitarism.
“We know that the communities most affected by these groups support our ongoing efforts and I would appeal for anyone with information regarding criminality by paramilitary organisations to contact police on 101.
“Alternatively, information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100 per cent anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”
Steve Tracey, assistant director of the fraud investigation service at the HMRC, said: "Working together in partnership with other enforcement colleagues we can target the criminal gangs who are stealing from the taxpayer, robbing public services and undermining legitimate traders." –PA