Crack bunker squads hunt for hidden AK47s in Dublin warehouse
Gardai close in on cache of assault rifles in city
A specialist army search team using high-tech scanning equipment for detecting underground bunkers began sweeping a Dublin warehouse yesterday, where gardai believe that weapons from the Regency Hotel attack are still concealed.
Detectives are satisfied that the arsenal of weapons used by the hit team - four AK 47s and two handguns - were brought back to the industrial unit in Coolock shortly after the military-style attack on February 5 last.
The Sunday Independent can reveal that members of the National Surveillance Unit and the anti-terrorist Special Detective Unit (SDU) had the warehouse under surveillance for the past two weeks.
The deadly assault rifles were loaned to the Hutch gang by the so-called New IRA for use in the audacious attack, in which drug dealer David Byrne was shot dead and two associates injured.
The gang had intended to take out Daniel Kinahan, the leader of the Kinahan crime cartel, and several of his associates, but they arrived too late.
Gardai, who were working on top-grade intelligence, had decided to wait it out until the dissident republicans considered it safe enough to return the weapons to the North.
On Wednesday, Donegal man Shane Rowan (39) was arrested when the Emergency Response Unit stopped him near Slane, County Meath, and found three AK 47s which security sources said were used in the Regency attack.
Rowan from Forest Park, Killygordan in Donegal, was followed by undercover officers after he visited the Coolock warehouse and drove towards the Border.
On Friday night, he was charged at the Special Criminal Court with possession of the assault rifles, three magazines and 75 rounds of ammunition at Tuiterath, Balrath, Slane, Co Meath, on March 9.
Mr Rowan was also charged with membership of an unlawful organisation, styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Óglaigh na hÉireann, otherwise the IRA.
Gardai believe that the rest of the arsenal, including a fourth AK 47 and the two handguns, which were photographed in the hands of two hit men, are still concealed somewhere in the warehouse.
Senior officers decided to call in the specialist team from the Army Ordnance Corps after two earlier searches failed to turn up the weapons.
It is understood that the military team is equipped with scanning devices capable of detecting bunkers or chambers hidden in walls and underground.
The seizure of the three weapons was one of the highlights of a week which saw the gardai mounting a massive counter-offensive against organised crime that has not been seen in 20 years.
The huge investigation, sparked by the murders of David Byrne and Eddie Hutch, has taken on a dramatic momentum, with security sources expressing confidence that several gang members are likely to be charged with murder and other serious offences.
Detectives have identified the six-man Regency hit team, which included a former IRA member from Tyrone and close associates of gangster Gary Hutch, the nephew of crime boss Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch, whose murder sparked the current feud.
They have also identified up to six individuals who collected the hit team and their weapons immediately after the attack.
It is understood that gardai are planning a series of arrests and further searches over the coming days and weeks.
Up to 250 officers are involved in the multilayered investigation, which includes the Byrne and Hutch murders and a wider operation to smash the two drug gangs and seize their wealth.
On the same day that the murder weapons were recovered in Meath, the Criminal Assets Bureau seized over €1m worth of top-of-the-range cars, jewellery and cash when they raided several homes and business premises connected with the extended family of David Byrne, who are the Kinahan's business partner.
In further searches on Thursday, detectives from the South Central Division also seized cash, jewellery and documentation, including tracking devices.
As part of the overall strategy, senior gardai have confirmed that they expect to use the Witness Protection Programme to accommodate members of both gangs who decide to turn state witnesses.
"People who were not involved in the murder are suddenly finding themselves in a lot of trouble because they agreed to hide or move weapons, or render other logistical assistance in the attacks," said a senior source.
"The overall strategy involves a multilayered strategic plan, which has factored in the very likely possibility that gang members from either the Kinahan or Hutch sides decide that it is in their best interests to become state witnesses.
"This investigation is probably one of the biggest since the murder of Veronica Guerin, because like that case, the feud between the Kinahans and the Hutchs is a milestone in criminal history and must be met with robust and implacable force.
"As can be seen over the past week, when we are given the resources, An Garda Siochana can get the job done. This ongoing operation has been a huge morale boost for our people," the source added.