Strabane: Assault rifle was to be used 'to murder police'

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Media captionThe rifle was found close to Melvin Hall sports complex

An assault rifle found in Strabane, County Tyrone, was to have been used in an attempt to murder PSNI officers, a police commander has said.

Police investigating dissident republican activity carried out searches in Melvin Road and Ballycolman Estate on Tuesday evening.

It followed the discovery of a mortar bomb in a graveyard at the weekend.

Spt Mark McEwan said: "This rifle was in control of people who were intent in killing police officers."

He added: "The gun has now been taken out of circulation which is a good thing.

"This could have caused fatalities or serious harm to members of the community."

He said the operation was intelligence-led and it ended at 02:00 GMT on Wednesday.

'Nothing to offer'

"There are a number of lines inquiry at the moment about what type of attack this could have been," he said.

"The threat to police officers across the service is severe.

"We believe that anyone involved in terrorist activity will always be in possession of articles to carry out attacks."

SDLP councillor Patsy Kelly said: "Those committed to violence have nothing to offer the people of Strabane."

Sinn Fein councillor Brian McMahon added: "Violent dissident republicans need to listen to the will of the people who don't support their campaign and just want to get on with their lives."