Northern Ireland news

A major surveillance operation targetting the 'IRA' involved the bugging of two meetings earlier this year

Solicitor Ciarán Shiels
Connla Young

A major surveillance operation targetting the 'IRA' involved the bugging of two meetings earlier this year.

It is understood the meetings were held at separate locations in Co Tyrone and that both audio and video evidence has been gathered.

Ciarán Shiels, of Madden and Finucane Solicitors, who represents one of those arrested last night said it is alleged that the Chief of Staff and chairman of the 'IRA', which is sometimes referred to as the New IRA, addressed members of the organisation's executive at both meetings.

Mr Shiels said that around 500 PSNI officers were involved in the operation which has secured 36 hours of recordings.

The solicitor added that an emerging issue centres on the possible activity of a British agent

The seven men and two women were arrested in early morning raids in Derry, Tyrone and Armagh on Tuesday as part of operation police have called Arbacia.

On Wednesday police were granted and extra 72 hours to questions the nine, who range in age from 26 to 50.

Properties in Dublin, Laois Cork and Kerry were also searched by gardai as part of the cross-border operation.

The Irish News understands that others are wanted in connection with the investigation.

Four offices across the north used by hardline republican party Saoradh were also raided by the police on Thursday.

Some of those arrested are members of the party's national executive.

Police on both sides of the border have said the arrests and searches are linked to an investigation focusing on the activities of the New IRA.

The Irish News understands the first meeting, at a rented property between Cookstown and Omagh, took place in February.

Sophisticated cameras and listening devices are believed to have been located throughout the building,

A second meeting is understood to have taken place at a property in the Gortin area last month.

Again, it is understood conversations between those attending were recorded.

Meanwhile, it is understood that a west Belfast man who may have had a role in arranging the meetings has not been seen since the middle of this week.

Sources say that the contents of his home were packed into a removal van on Wednesday and that friends and acquaintances have been unable to contact him.

Mr Shiels said: “An issue that is emerging is the possible activity of a British agent provocateur in connection with the arrangement, facilitation and logistical support for both meetings and entrapment of the individuals said to have attended,” he said.

The ‘IRA' is the largest and most active of the armed groups opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.

It was formed in 2012 after a merger between the now defunct Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and a group of independent republicans.

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