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Ciaran Maxwell case leaves questions unanswered

The case of Ciaran Maxwell, the Royal Marine who was also a dissident republican bomb-maker, is one of the most unusual to come before the courts in recent times.

The 31-year-old father of one did not appear to have strong links with dissident groups nor was he known to have hardline republican sympathies.

In fact, the Catholic from Larne, Co Antrim, chose to join the Royal Marines, a regiment with one of the toughest reputations in the British Army and gaining entry to that unit would have required a considerable level of commitment on his part.

Indeed, after six years of military service, he was about to be promoted when his double life was exposed in August last year.

Maxwell's carefully constructed facade began to unravel after arms dumps were discovered in Carnfunnock and Capanagh parks last year.

We are told the soldier's DNA - which had been entered on a database when he was the victim of a brutal sectarian attack in 2002 - was found on some of the weapons and that led detectives to him.

Over a five year period, Maxwell stockpiled mortars, anti-personnel mines, 14 pipe bombs, ammunition and handguns.

Police said four of the pipe bombs he made have already been used with two detonating without causing injury.

His stash of explosives had the potential to construct a bomb larger than that used in Enniskillen in November 1987.

In all Maxwell is believed to have had 43 purpose-built weapons hides at eight sites in Northern Ireland and England.

Given the scale of this operation and the nature of the weaponry he was able to stockpile, it is inevitable questions will be asked about how he was able to get away with his nefarious activities for so many years, all while serving in the military.

It seems incredible that no intelligence was picked up about a British soldier working on behalf of a violent dissident organisation.

There will also be concerns at the fact that he was able to smuggle munitions from his base in England to Northern Ireland.

Maxwell claimed his support for dissident republicans was fake and said he only became involved as a result of a friendship with someone who was in the Continuity IRA.

As with a number of aspects of this strange case, it is not clear what the full story is or what motivated him to join the Royal Marines.

The Old Bailey judge who jailed him for 18 years yesterday was in no doubt that the former soldier was `strongly committed' to the dissident cause.

Thankfully, the deadly weapons amassed by Maxwell are now out of circulation while the lengthy prison term should send a message to others tempted to get involved with violent dissident groups.

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