Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said: “Late yesterday afternoon the Terrorism Investigation Unit conducted 3 searches as part of an intelligence led proactive counter terrorist operation, supported specialist officers.
“In the first search, in the area of Dove Gardens, over £2000 cash was seized. A further search then took place in the SouthWay area where we have recovered a handgun.
“A third search in the Creevagh Heights area where we recovered:
2 Military hand grenades
A further handgun
Over 50 rounds of ammunition
And over a kilogram of plastic explosives
“Three people, two men and a woman, have been arrested under the Terrorism Act and remain in custody at this time.
“The significance of this recovery cannot be underestimated
“These items are military grade and we believe the intention was to mount attacks in an attempt to kill Police Officers.
“Whilst the investigation is ongoing, and while we keep an open mind, the primary line of enquiry centres on the NIRA.
“Not only was the intention here to kill and maim, but there is a total disregard for the wider community.
“These items were being stored in a residential area in close proximity to a children’s play area and any attack that would have been mounted would have taken place within our communities.
“This is clearly extremely worrying for the wider community and for officers and staff, but be assured that the success of this recovery demonstrates our dedication to pursuing these groups, the professionalism of our teams and our dogged determination to bring these people before the courts.
“The investigation is ongoing and I would appeal to anyone with any information to come forward to Police. Please contact us 101 or through Crimestoppers.
“This operation has had a considerable impact.”
Speaking about the disorder, Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said: “Following this operation yesterday police faced some exceptionally challenging circumstances.
Yesterday was an exceptionally warm day which combined with the time of day drew large numbers of youths to the area.
Regrettably the situation quickly escalated with officers and their vehicles coming under sustained violent attack with heavy masonry and petrol bombs.
Because of the material found police had to maintain a presence over an extended period for our security and public safety.
These were extremely difficult conditions for our officers, many of whom were in full personal protective equipment and at this time we have 16 reported injuries to our officers from our Tactical Support Groups and our Local Policing Teams. Officers who, today, will not be able to serve the community. The injuries sustained include burns, head injuries and potential fractures.
We are really proud of our officers who demonstrated not only real courage and professionalism but also amazing restraint in the face of this violence. Authorisation had been given for deployment of our AEP systems but no rounds were fired.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our partners, community leaders and families in Creggan for their support, patience and understanding. A number of families had to be evacuated from their homes to make safe these dangerous munitions.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan continued: “I want to pay tribute to our officers and staff against the backdrop of a severe terrorist threat, attacks against them within the last year, the attempted murder of DCI Caldwell, most recently the data loss and the events of the last week, they have continued to deliver a first class policing service protecting the most vulnerable, serving communities and pursuing those who seek to cause harm.
“At every level, Constable and Sergeants, Inspecting ranks, Superintending ranks and our staff colleagues at every level across the organisation, have demonstrated their resilience professional and dedication and on behalf of the Senior Executive Team we want to acknowledge and thank them for their incredible work.”