Britain’s answer to the FBI is being brought in to tackle a UDA gang accused of murder and drug-dealing in Coleraine and Ballymoney, a senior police commander has revealed.
The North Antrim UDA has been blamed for a spate of so-called punishment shootings in recent months, including the killing of father-of-five Brian McIlhagga in Ballymoney.
A dedicated PSNI operation is under way focused on tackling the violent group branded “parasites” by a DUP MLA for the area.
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the service was calling in the National Crime Agency to back up their efforts.
The UK-wide crime-fighting body comes into effect in Northern Ireland next month.
Mr Kerr confirmed the intelligence-led NCA will be helping the PSNI “to tackle what is largely an organised crime group up there who are involved in the same range of commodities up there other organised crime groups are involved in”.
He added: “This group is no different, they just happen to operate under a very convenient badge to try and give them some legitimacy.
“We bring every tool we have to the table to tackle them and the NCA will be one of those tools.”
Another Assistant Chief Constable, Stephen Martin, described the North Antrim UDA as “a very dangerous group”.
He added: “We saw the murder of Mr McIlhagga in January and since there have been a number of other incidents and assaults in the North Antrim area.
“In this case there is a leadership issue going on within the UDA in North Antrim and a number of individuals are trying to demonstrate their so-called strength and trying to seize the leadership.
“We have a specific operation in place in relation to the events of recent months. That’s be going for some weeks now.”
A dedicated investigation has been launched and police patrols stepped up in response to the spate of attacks. A number of properties have also been searches and arrests made.
Mr Martin added: “We are looking at a range of individuals who we suspect are involved in the UDA in North Antrim.
“We are seeking to develop our intelligence work against them and there is community engagement.
“The actions of this UDA group are unacceptable and we will work very hard to catch them and place them before the court.”
Brian McIlhagga was beaten and shot by masked and armed men in the Riverview Park area of Ballymoney on Monday, 5 January.
At the time, police said the father-of-five suffered a “sustained and vicious attack”.
A spate of other attacks occurred within the space of five days.
* A man in his 20s was shot in a house in Maple Drive, Coleraine on March 26.
* A 45-year-old man was assaulted by men armed with baseball bats in the Carnany Drive area of Ballymoney on Sunday, March 15 just after 8pm.
* A man in his 30s was shot in the legs by masked men as he sat in a car on the Dunluce Road, Bushmills on Tuesday, March 17 at 12.30am.
* A man in his 40s was shot by masked men, who arrived at a house on the Finvoy Road, Ballymoney on Thursday, March 19 at about 9.45pm. He was shot in both legs and one arm.
North Antrim DUP MLA David McIlveen was scathing of the UDA gang on his patch.
He said: “They don’t reflect the views of anybody in North Antrim.
“They are in no way supported by the people in North Antrim and are seen as parasites.”