Arrested British soldier Ciaran Maxwell was a sectarian attack victim

 Ciaran Maxwell was the victim of a sectarian attack in Larne in 2002
Connla Young

A BRITISH soldier being questioned in connection with the discovery of two republican arms dumps in Co Antrim was the victim of a vicious sectarian assault when he was 16.

Larne-born Royal Marine Ciarán Maxwell (30) was detained by police in Somerset on Wednesday and was still being questioned by police last night.

Police swooped on homes belonging to his relatives in the Old Glenarm Road area of Larne within hours of the arrest.

It is believed the investigation involves four police forces as well British intelligence agency MI5.

Sources in Larne last night said Mr Maxwell came from a “quiet well respected family” and that it was widely known locally he was a British soldier.

As a 16-year-old he was beaten by a gang of loyalists wielding golf clubs and iron bars which resulted in head and facial injuries including a compound fracture to the skull.

It was later claimed that a British army patrol which arrived at the scene failed to intervene before driving off.

At the time his mother Teresa and stepfather Brendan told An Phoblact/Republican News, a paper linked to Sinn Féin, they were angry that Catholics in Larne were under threat and no action was being taken.

They also criticised police who they said did not take attacks on Catholics seriously.

It is understood that Mr Maxwell's partner is from London and the pair have a young son.

After his arrest Scotland Yard said a house in South Devon and a wooded area were being searched.

A woman, believed to be an aunt of the arrested man has voiced fears about the family’s safety after several properties connected to his extended family were searched in the majority loyalist town on Wednesday.

Items including documents and computer parts were taken away for examination.

Police took away items from a several houses during searches in Larne. Picture by Mal McCann.

English police said the British soldier had been detained “on suspicion of preparation for acts of terrorism” and that the operation was “intelligence led”.

While the threat posed by dissident republicans has been classified as severe for a number of years, in May British intelligence services raised the threat level in Britain from moderate to substantial.

The searches and arrest are connected to the discovery of two arms dumps in east Antrim earlier this year.

A potentially deadly armour piercing Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) mortar, previously used by the ‘IRA’. was among the haul found at Capanagh Forest in May.

Other items included two commercially produced Claymore anti-personnel mines, several pipe bombs, quantities of explosives, ammunition and command wire.

Component parts used in the construction of explosive devices as well as magazines and ammunition for an assault riffle were also discovered in the remote forest location.

A day after the find a device was discovered a short distance away outside the village of Cushendun.

A police a spokesman later confirmed that they had not ruled out a link with the Capanagh discovery.

Videos posted on Ciaran Maxwell's Facebook page:

In March bomb-making equipment and explosives were discovered at nearby Carnfunnock Country Park.

Police said four barrels were unearthed at Carnfunnock - two barrels were empty but two contained a variety of bomb-making components, including wiring, toggle switches, circuit boards, partially constructed timer power units, ball bearings and a small quantity of explosives.

As Larne is predominantly unionist/loyalist in make-up, the discovery of the finds led to some initial speculation that they could be linked to loyalist paramilitaries. However, after assessing the nature of the weaponry, police concluded they most likely belonged to dissidents.

Meanwhile, a 22 year old man was arrested in relation to drugs offences during the Larne searches has been released on bail pending further enquiries.

Four men arrested on Tuesday as part of a probe into dissident republican activity have been released unconditionally.

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