‘THE Untouchables’ today carried out its largest operation to date with over 200 police officers supported by colleagues from the National Crime Agency and HM Revenue and Customs.
Five people were arrested – aged 33, 41, 48, 49 and 51 – with further arrests planned by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force.
Twelve properties were searched in North, South and West Belfast, Lisburn, Crumlin and Newtownabbey in relation to the criminal activities of Belfast INLA.
They have all been taken into police custody where they are currently being questioned by detectives.
Head of Crime Operations Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: “The October 2015 Assessment of Paramilitary Groups in NI by PSNI and MI5 at the request of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated very clearly that INLA’s structures remained in existence and that its members continued to be heavily involved in criminality including extortion, paramilitary style attacks and violent acts of intimidation against people allegedly involved in dealing drugs in communities.
“These activities were assessed to have a significant and negative impact on local communities and this made the INLA’s a priority for the PCTF.
“This search and arrest operation is the largest conducted by the Task Force to date and is the result of an investigation that has been under way for a significant period of time into the group’s criminality and specifically its involvement in extortion and prostitution.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to appeal to anyone who believes they or their business are the subject of extortion to contact officers at the Paramilitary Crime Task Force on our 101 non-emergency number.
“We want to hear from you and, as today’s action demonstrates, where we can secure evidence of these suspected offences we will take action.
“There has been a misconception in some quarters that the work of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force is focused only on loyalist paramilitaries.
“Today’s policing activity and a related operation in Derry in March clearly demonstrate that our work is to remove paramilitarism from all our communities across Northern Ireland.”
During the financial year to date (2017/18) the Paramilitary Crime Task Force has conducted 193 searches; made 47 arrests of which 44 people were charged or reported to the PPS, seized an estimated £58,000 worth of drugs, restrained £50,000 worth of cash, seized four vehicles, conducted 26 checks of licensed premises, obtained Freezing Orders worth £150,000 and seizures of illicit tobacco products has prevented the loss of £1,237,462 in revenue.
ACC Martin added: “There is not and will not be any hiding place for paramilitaries.
“These criminal gangs destroy people’s lives and harm our communities and we are committed to tackling them head on so that communities and businesses can prosper without any threat or fear.
“Paramilitaries exploit their own communities and others through various types of criminality, including extortion and prostitution, and they are ruthless in their methods including so-called paramilitary style attacks. They exploit vulnerability, including younger citizens who can so easily be drawn in. They destroy lives and harm the communities they so often claim to represent.
“The majority of people in our communities want to make the transition away from that sort of control and intimidation. This means that the response to the paramilitaries needs to fall to everyone.
“Information from the community is vital and I would appeal to anyone who can help us or who believes they may be a victim of extortion, or so-called protection money payment, to phone 101 and ask to speak to the Paramilitary Crime Task Force.
“Alternatively information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”