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Part of the deadly arms haul, which included hand grenades and high-powered firearms, seized after an international operation that involved police in Amsterdam, Holland, gardai in Dublin and the PSNI in Belfast

Part of the deadly arms haul, which included hand grenades and high-powered firearms, seized after an international operation that involved police in Amsterdam, Holland, gardai in Dublin and the PSNI in Belfast

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Part of the deadly arms haul, which included hand grenades and high-powered firearms, seized after an international operation that involved police in Amsterdam, Holland, gardai in Dublin and the PSNI in Belfast

A MAJOR supply line used by Ireland's most dangerous criminal gangs to import deadly weapons has been smashed, it emerged last night.

Dutch police swooped to seize 181 high-powered firearms at an illegal gun wholesaler in Amsterdam as part of an international investigation involving gardai and the PSNI.

The wholesaler is believed to have been the source of the mini-arsenal of 41 guns seized by gardai and PSNI officers on both sides of the border on Tuesday afternoon -- a haul which included specially modified Glock handguns, capable of firing 33 rounds in just 2.5 seconds.

Gardai suspect convicted murderer Brian Meehan masterminded the importation of those firearms and more than €4m worth of heroin and cannabis.

Dutch authorities believe the illegal operation they smashed was selling weapons to criminal gangs across western Europe, including some in Ireland.

The weapons discovered by Dutch police included grenades, Ruger .357 calibre pistols, Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistols, Steyr TMP 9mm submachine guns and silencers.

Senior gardai said leading Irish criminals had bought weapons from the wholesaler in the past.

However, Dutch and Irish police forces have yet to discover where the latest arms cache was destined for.

"There is no evidence that these weapons were destined for Ireland, but there is evidence that Irish criminals have bought from this wholesale operation before," said a senior garda.

Dutch police made the swoop on Tuesday night at a metal factory in the west of Amsterdam.

However, details of the raid, during which four people were arrested, were only released yesterday.

"This was the biggest seizure of firearms in the Netherlands in years," Wim De Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch National Prosecution Office, told the Irish Independent.

Dutch police first began investigating the gun-running gang in July following a tip-off based on intelligence gathered by the PSNI and gardai.

Hailed

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy hailed the operation as "a great day for law enforcement".

"We've had too many deaths on our streets and too many gangland crimes. The public can see from the likes of this seizure what is going on," he said.

Police in Amsterdam arrested three Dutch men, aged 41, 42 and 53, and a 27-year-old Brazilian woman on suspicion of possession and sale of illegal firearms.

The Dutch operation was mounted in the hours after four men -- three in the Republic and one in the North -- were arrested in connection with guns and drugs seizures on Tuesday morning.

Gardai seized 27 firearms and €4m worth of heroin and cannabis in a pub car park near Dublin airport.

Three men were arrested in Dublin, Tipperary and Offaly.

A fourth man, who is a close associate of Meehan, was arrested in Belfast after police seized a further 14 firearms and a substantial six-figure cash sum.