Six held in IRA arms smuggling probe

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The Independent Online

Four men and two women were being questioned in Northern Ireland last night by police investigating the financing of a transatlantic IRA arms smuggling ring.

Four men and two women were being questioned in Northern Ireland last night by police investigating the financing of a transatlantic IRA arms smuggling ring.

Officers arrested the suspects in raids on houses in Belfast and North Antrim in the latest stage of a three-year inquiry into the alleged large-scale importation of guns from America by the Provisionals.

The operation was hailed by Unionist politicians as further proof that the republican movement was actively pursuing its paramilitary activities during its ceasefire.

Dozens of weapons, including about 100 handed over by the authorities in America, have been recovered during the inquiry involving the FBI, Scotland Yard and the Garda.

The operation which led to yesterday's arrests dated back to 1999, when guns and component parts were discovered by postal staff in Coventry.

Police said those weapons were posted from the US, often in boxes containing toys, before being intercepted in England.

As part of the operation, four people were later convicted in Florida of firearms offences in September 2000.

The arrests were a blow to Sinn Fein after it rejected claims the IRA trained Farc Marxist guerrillas in Colombia, stole Special Branch files from Castlereagh police complex and was involved in spying at the Northern Ireland Office.

¿ A man aged 41 was due to appear in court in Northern Ireland today on 16 charges including firearms offences, conspiracy to murder and membership of a proscribed organisation. Six other people were released pending reports after being arrested during raids on 12 homes in Londonderry and north Antrim during a police operation against loyalist paramilitary groups.

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