The arrest of two men after an armed confrontation yesterday has been described as a significant development by gardai investigating the activities of an organised crime gang operating in three counties.
The men were detained after shotgun blasts were directed at officers, who were attempting to stop their car.
A couple of garda cars were slightly damaged in the incident but nobody was hurt and officers did not return fire.
Senior officers believe the two suspects are linked to the gang responsible for carrying out a gun and attempted arson attack on a garda station in Carbury, north Kildare and issuing death threats against six uniformed members based there.
The leader of the gang is a notorious drug dealer, originally from Dublin but now living in north Kildare.
The shots were fired at around 1am yesterday when armed gardai attempted to stop a targeted car.
Following a planned operation, members of the Emergency Response Unit, backed up by local divisional and regional units, tried to intercept the vehicle at Clonmoyle, between Rathangan and Monasterevin in county Kildare.
A shotgun was fired at the officers and the cars were damaged as gardai pursued and intercepted the fleeing vehicle.
The car was brought to a halt a short distance away and the shotgun was recovered at the scene.
Two men, in their mid 20s, were arrested. They are both from Edenderry, Co Offaly.
Gardai say the men are suspected of acting as "enforcers" for the organised crime gang and are well-known thugs.
The car, which was not stolen, was taken away for forensic examination and road diversions were put in place for several hours while a detailed search of the scene was carried out.
A conference of senior officers to review the garda response to the gang was held in Leixlip Garda Station yesterday and chaired by the regional assistant commissioner, Fintan Fanning.
Last night armed officers carried out follow-up searches in several areas as they tried to establish if the seized weapon was to have been used in a robbery or was being moved from one safe house to another.
Over the past couple of months local gardai, backed up by the national support services, have been carrying out a special operation combating organised crime in counties Kildare, Offaly and west Wicklow.
This operation was stepped up after a shotgun was fired at the garda station in Carbury, while it was unoccupied.
A window in the station was shattered in the blast and an attempt was made to set the station on fire.
Six uniformed officers, based in Carbury station, received official notice from garda management that they had intelligence indicating that their lives were being threatened.
The same gang is also believed to have been responsible for a previous arson attack on the station in 2009.
The two suspects are being held for questioning at Leixlip station under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act and can be detained without charge for up to three days.