Feuding traveller gang plots acid attacks on enemies at court sitting
A major alert is in place after gardai learned that feuding mobsters are to use acid to target rivals as well as investigating gardai.
Extra security precautions were put in place at two district court sittings in Co Longford last week at the request of a judge who had been made aware of the "extremely dangerous situation" by gardai.
Officers in the county are dealing with five different feuding gangs in a complicated scenario which has led to armed officers carrying out "24/7" patrols in the locality since June.
The acid attack threat is just the latest incident in the feud.
"Intelligence came in that this was going to be the latest tactic. Gardai were made aware of a threat by a senior player in one of the gangs that acid was to be thrown on the face of his rivals," a source told the Herald.
"The threat suggested gardai could also be targeted and that this would happen at a district court sitting when a lot of protagonists in the feud would be in the same location.
"The information was that women would be enlisted to carry the acid in a bottle in their handbags and then throw it in the face of their targets, which would of course cause life-changing injuries.
"Of course, this is an extremely dangerous situation but gardai are on top of it as much as they can be."
A team of experienced detectives backed up by one of the country's most proactive community policing units has been put in place.
So far, they have managed to prevent a murder but tensions remain extremely high.
Gardai have codenamed their investigation Operation Stola and, so far, it has led to more than "1,100 proactive incidents" by gardai - which include armed checkpoints, bail curfew checks and undercover operations.
There have been 26 arrests for offences ranging from possession of firearms and stabbings to assaults and drugs and public order offences. Sources said the figure is expected to rise in the coming weeks.
"The vista of acid attacks is certainly a very unpleasant prospect but these gangs are being watched very, very closely," a source said.
"During the summer, a small bottle of a corrosive substance was seized by Granard gardai in an abandoned car in which balaclavas and gloves were also found."
Three gardai have been injured in the past fortnight, including a brave unarmed female officer aged in her early 30s who was subjected to a savage assault in an arrest operation.
Charges are expected in this investigation and the prime suspect is a juvenile male criminal.
The feuding mobsters are Traveller criminals from five different families who have close links to each other, and in some cases rival gangsters who are closely related.
In January, Galway gardai investigated a suspected acid attack linked to the feud in the course of mayhem surrounding the funeral of a 93-year-old woman in which three men were also injured following a shooting and an assault with a hatchet.
On that occasion, a graveyard was searched for weapons and bombs ahead of the funeral.
In June, shots were fired at an occupied house at Clonbalt Wood, in Longford town, with a man in his 40s narrowly avoiding injury. The previous night, two houses were burnt out in the Corboy area of Edgeworthstown. One was a vacant property while the second was unoccupied at the time.
Gardai have also seen a trend in which women are being enlisted to carry out shootings and now potential acid attacks.
Social media is regularly used by the feuding thugs to intimidate and threaten their rivals, including at the weekend when criminals posted photos of themselves posing with a shotgun and a machine gun while disguising their identities by wearing balaclavas.
"It would be wrong to say that it is a miracle that no one has been murdered yet because the reason that is the case is because of the very proactive policing operation," a source said. "These gangs have access to a wide range of firearms as well as pipe bombs and have benefited from being part of a network of criminality."