Friday May 14 2010
TWO loaded rocket launchers seized from a crime gang by gardai yesterday are capable of destroying an armoured security van -- or even the homes of feuding gangsters.
The disposable launchers, which were seized along with a cocaine shipment in a raid by gardai, can be fired from the shoulder and discarded after being used only once.
The rockets, which had been fitted with warheads, were last night taken away by Army bomb disposal experts to the Glen of Imaal in Co Wicklow to be made safe.
The weapons had been stored by a major Dublin south city crime gang in a rented shed located at the rear of a block of five industrial units on the Clane road, at Longtown, Straffan, Co Kildare.
Armed officers from the organised crime unit raided the premises at 9.30am yesterday.
And they found the rockets -- one of which has been identified as a Russian-made RPG-22 -- an AK assault rifle and nine kilos of cocaine with a street value of between €700,000 and €800,000 hidden inside barrels.
The raid was part of Operation Lamp, which has been targeting members of a drug trafficking gang, based in the Crumlin area of Dublin.
Senior officers believe the gang had purchased the cocaine from one of the biggest suppliers to the Irish market -- a Crumlin-born criminal who fled to Spain more than two years ago as the gardai moved in on his operations.
The criminal, who is in his early 30s and has convictions here for assault and possession of a firearm with intent to rob, has been supplying shipments of drugs to his former associates in the south city since establishing himself in Spain.
It is the first time gardai have found rocket launchers in the possession of a criminal gang.
The seizure marks a significant upgrading of the type of weaponry now available to the drug traffickers. Some of the suspects have loose connections with one of the gangs involved in the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud.
Gardai were last night trying to establish if the shoulder-held rockets were to have been used against a rival outfit.
However, officers said it is also possible that the weapons -- which were notoriously difficult to fire on target when in the hands of terrorists during the troubles in Northern Ireland -- could have been used in a raid on a security vans carrying large amounts of cash and guarded by an Army escort.
Manufactured in the 1990s, the RPG-22 is said to be incapable of piercing a tank but could penetrate a cash in transit van or used as an assault weapon if attacking rival gangsters in a house.
Gardai believe both rocket-launchers were purchased by the drugs gang from either dissident republicans or as part of the cocaine consignment.
They do not think they were part of the shipments of weaponry smuggled into the country by the Provisional IRA, prior to its ceasefire.
Three years ago a joint operation by gardai and the Serious Organised Crime Agency in Britain foiled an attempt to smuggle rocket launchers and other weapons into Ireland for the McCarthy-Dundon gang in Limerick.
The raid on the shed followed the seizure of another kilo of cocaine at the Naas Road, near Rathcoole, Co Dublin, on Thursday evening when the organised crime unit stopped two cars and detained four men.
The men, suspected of being members of the Crumlin gang, were being questioned last night at Clondalkin garda station under anti-drug trafficking legislation.
Follow-up searches in four houses resulted in the seizure of a kilo of cannabis and €16,000 in cash at a house in Glasnevin.
Two of the suspects are from Crumlin and one is alleged by gardai to be the "right hand man" here of the supplier in Spain.
The other two live in Glasnevin and Clonsilla and are suspected of being involved in the collection of a kilo of cocaine from other members of the gang.
The gang are believed to have moved their main storage depot to the shed outside Straffan because of increased garda patrols in the Crumlin area.
Gardai are also trying to establish if a Dublin criminal, now living outside Naas, was linked to the find.
- Tom Bray Security Editor