Thousands of anti-tank weapons could go to NI paramilitaries

Many thousands of “combat-grade” anti-tank weapons sent to Ukraine from Belfast may ultimately end up in the possession of northern Irish Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries, an ex-PSNI superintendent has warned.

Speaking to the Sunday Life this week, Ken Pennington said that about 17,000 NLAW rocket launchers had been sent to Ukraine but not tracked, and he fears smugglers could sell them to groups like dissident Republicans and the UVF.

“There is a danger that high-tech, combat-grade weapons and equipment could flow out of the conflict and into the hands of criminals and terrorists across Europe, including here,” he said.

“If you look at Ukraine and the NLAW system, there’s about 17,000 of those missiles there right now.

“They’re not issued against receipt, so we don’t know where they are. There will be equipment lying in fields and there will be disaffected conscripts with money problems selling equipment.

“That is why I’ve been trying to motivate multinational organisations to get a grip on human trafficking because as bad as it is – and it’s a terrible crime – it’s also going to get some of the most sophisticated weaponry out of Ukraine via organised crime.”

Pennington, who is now involved in counter-terrorism, said that humant trafficking and illegal arms dealing were closely linked.

“One of the issues is that human trafficking is seen as a low-risk, high-profit opportunity by criminals,” he said.

“The only difference between the two is terrorists like to have a story to justify their crimes, whereas organised criminals don’t. They just care about the money.”

However, he added: “The problem is the people who learn to move people can learn to move anything, including drugs, firearms, cash and weapons.”

Notably, according to Europol, the number of jihadist arrests in Ireland tripled in 2020 from the year previous, even as terrorism rates dropped across Europe more broadly. This indicates there may be a rise in extremist activity in Ireland in recent years.

Number of jihadi terror suspects arrested in Ireland tripled last year

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