A dissident Republican from Northern Ireland, who joined the Royal Marines after being subjected to a sectarian attack as a teenager, built 14 pipe bombs – four of which were used in attacks in the province, a court has heard.
Ciaran Maxwell, 31, stockpiled a huge cache of explosives, chemicals and other terrorist material, which he stashed in hides in England and Northern Ireland.
It is believed the Royal Marine Commando, who was based in Exminster, Devon, used his military cover to help transport explosives from England back to Northern Ireland, where they were used by fellow dissidents in at least four attacks.
The court heard that dissidents have carried out at least 160 attacks in Northern Ireland, and Maxwell may have had links to the Continuity IRA, which has rejected the peace process.
Maxwell, who was originally from Larne in County Antrim, pleaded guilty earlier this year to preparation of terrorist acts between January 2011 and August last year.
He also admitted fraud charges and possessing cannabis with intent to supply, which police believe was done to fund his terrorist activity.
At the beginning of his sentencing hearing, prosecutor Richard Whittam QC, said: “Across 14 of the locations involved in the investigation, Mr Maxwell had in his possession, or had constructed, 14 pipe bombs.”
He added: “Of those 14 pipe bombs constructed by Mr Maxwell, four have been deployed in Northern Ireland.”
The court heard that while nobody was hurt in the attacks, two of the devices had exploded and could have caused loss of life.
The first device exploded in February 2013 In Larne and an associate of Maxwell’s, Nial Lehd was subsequently jailed.
In July 2016, a device was found at an address in Carnlough, but did not go off, and the following month another unexploded device was found in a Belfast street.
Last December police were called to an address in Armagh after a pipe bomb exploded, nobody was hurt.
The fact that three of the devices linked to him were deployed after his arrest, will lead to concern that more of the bombs he built remain in the hands of terrorists and could be used to kill or maim.
Maxwell, a Catholic, who grew up in the largely Protestant area of Larne, is thought to have harboured a grudge against Loyalists after being beaten up by gang in 2002.
In a move which will raise serious questions over the Ministry of Defence vetting procedures, Maxwell successfully applied to join the Royal Marines, beginning his training in September 2010.
Less than six months after joining the elite unit he began carrying out computer research on the manufacture and construction of explosives and also began compiling a list of potential targets.
The Old Bailey was told it was likely Maxwell used his position in the Royal Marines to help move arms between his various hides in England and Northern Ireland.
Mr Whittam said: “It is our case that some of the items inevitably must have been taken from the UK to Northern Ireland by this defendant and it may be that, when travelling between England and the UK, bearing in mind the identity cards he would have had and his position, his passage would have been easier than others to take items with him.”
During his time in the British armed forces, Maxwell is understood to have been deployed around the UK, but not in Northern Ireland and also spent time in the United States. He never deployed to the Middle East.
Along with the 14 pipe bombs, Maxwell also stashed two anti-personnel directional mines, two explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), 29 complete firing systems, 33 initiators – including two military initiators, 13 military “Igniter Safety Fuze Electric” initiators, three fully constructed improvised detonators and other components parts for IEDs.
The court heard he had hoarded more materials and chemicals, enough to make 19 other pipe bombs, and also had a replica handgun and ammunition, which is thought to have been stolen from his base.
The Old Bailey heard how Maxwell was only caught when a walker stumbled across one of his hides in Carnfunnock Country Park, near Larne, in March last year.
Another was found in Capanagh Forest in Co Antrim in May by someone searching for a suitable place to camp, the court heard.
Maxwell was linked to the weapons through his DNA and was put under surveillance, before being arrested in August 2015.
As well as the explosive materials and bomb making materials, Maxwell was also found to have a copy of the IRA “Green Book”, stored on a media devices, along with potential targets for terrorism.
Police found satellite map images of power stations in Northern Ireland and Larne police station with a “blast radius put on top of it”.
There were also street maps of military barracks, a council building and an “Orange hall”, as well as details of the addresses of HMRC offices in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland
Office in Westminster and London’s NCA headquarters, the court heard.
Maxwell appeared in court by video link from Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes, where he sat at a desk with a laptop and making notes.
The hearing is expected to last three days.