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Police thwart attack after assault rifle recovered

Police from Paramilitary Task Force carried out searches in the New Lodge in north Belfast during a planned operation last week.

Specialist officers from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force believe they have thwarted a planned attack on police in north Belfast.

Officers recovered an automatic assault rifle and ammunition hidden in undergrowth close to Belfast zoo earlier this week.

The find followed the arrest and charge of two men in north Belfast.

Matthew Johnston (37) and Eamonn Hutchinson (36) were arrested following searches in the New Lodge and docks areas of Belfast.

Part of the New Lodge was sealed off for two days while searches took place, several locations in the Antrim Road and Duncairn Gardens area were searched.

Johnston, of Carrick Hill, and Hutchinson, from Princes Dock Street, are jointly charged with preparatory acts of terrorism - namely test firing a firearm on November 28.

They also both face a second count of possessing a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

Both men were remanded in custody to appear again by video-link on December 22.

It has since emerged that an assault rifle and ammunition were discovered hidden in undergrowth on the upper Antrim Road, close to the entrance to the zoo.

The gun is thought to belong to the dissident group calling itself the New IRA.

The information police received in relation to the location of the weapon and ammunition was specific and said to be from a human covert intelligence source.

Officers in north Belfast had been briefed the threat level was high and that dissidents connected to the New IRA planned an attack on a police patrol before Christmas.

The recovery of the AK47 style assault rifle is said to have temporarily averted any immediate threat to police from the organisation.

A spokesperson for the PSNI said; "Detectives from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force carried out a search in the Antrim Road in north Belfast on Monday December 4 and recovered a quantity of weapons and munitions including an assault rifle. These items have been recovered for forensic examination".

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