Police came under “sustained attack” by a crowd described as a criminal gang linked to a loyalist terrorist group in Co Antrim.
Members of the public could have been harmed during the incident in Larne on Wednesday night, which saw a burning barricade erected and police officers coming under attack from missiles.
It came after activity in the Linn Road area by the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Paramilitary Crime Taskforce targeting the south east Antrim Ulster Defence Association (UDA).
The taskforce was launched in 2017 to tackle crime by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.
Mid and East Antrim District Commander Superintendent Darrin Jones described the disorder in Larne as “reckless and totally unacceptable”.
He said members of the public were in put “grave danger”, and that a police Land Rover at one stage had to act as a “buffer” between those behind the incident and a number of people in their cars.
No injuries have been reported.
Supt Jones said police believe a criminal gang linked to the south east Antrim UDA wase behind the incident.
He described Linn Road as a “quiet residential area”.
“This is why it was so shocking and so reckless, putting people’s lives in danger because people were actually driving into a burning barricade – if someone had been seriously hurt last night, the ambulance could not have responded,” he said.
“My assessment is that this incident was orchestrated and carried out by a criminal gang going under the badge of the south east Antrim UDA.
“We believe this incident followed some proactive activity by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force against some elements of south east Antrim UDA at the weekend.
“The activity was against criminal elements and we believe members of the south east Antrim UDA. It was targeting all sorts of criminality.
“It’s an ongoing investigation so I can’t elaborate, but what I can say is that this incident last night brought wanton destruction to the Linn Road area of Larne – it inconvenienced the residents of Larne and it caused terror within the Linn Road area.”
Supt Jones said his officers came under “sustained attack”.
“They were faced with 30-40 masked men who, when police arrived, came under sustained attack from various missiles, bottles, bricks, fireworks – and we also believe petrol bombs were thrown,” he said.
“There is a full investigation under way and I would appeal to anyone within the community who has information in relation to this incident to call us.”
Supt Jones added that a police presence will remain in the area to deter any similar incidents from happening.
“I can assure the people of Larne that they will see a visible uplift in police resources in the area tonight and for as long as it takes,” he said.
“There will be increased police patrols in the area and the community can be reassured that we will be there to deal with anything that happens.”