A STOCKPILE of pepper spray was found by gardai investigating the activities of mugging gangs.
Detectives believe criminals were planning to use the spray on victims during street attacks.
More than 60 officers from around the country were involved in dawn raids yesterday that targeted the activities of a highly organised Eastern European criminal gang.
The muggers targeted in the operation are involved in so-called distraction thefts in which they use maps to distract people and then steal money and other valuables.
A source said: "They ask members of the public for directions, and while the distracted party helps them out, they manage to use blades to cut a hole in the bottom of the bag of the person they're talking to – some of the contents of the bag then falls out."
Another common tactic used by the criminals is "shoulder-surfing", in which the gang take note of a PIN number of their victim in a shop or other location before then distracting them and stealing their purse or wallet before trying to clear-out the victim's bank account.
The discovery of pepper spray was described by officers as "sinister".
It is thought muggers planned to use it to stun unsuspecting victims or someone who might resist a street theft.
Sources said the intelligence-driven raids are targeting a gang who originally come from the Romanian city of Iasi.
"Most of this gang's members are now based in the Dublin 1 and Dublin 7 areas and they were the main targets of the operation," a source said.
Officers raided several properties in the North Circular Road area of Dublin where they arrested five suspected criminals and seized 20 smartphones that are believed to have been stolen.