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Regency Hotel shooting was choreographed to send a clear and explicit message

Pictures have been widely circulated of gunmen carrying Kalashnikov weapons into the Regency Hotel. The pictures are significant for a number of reasons, writes Tom Clonan.

Tom Clonan Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

IRRESPECTIVE OF WHO was actually responsible for Friday’s shootings in the Regency Hotel, the operation bore the classic characteristics of a terrorist attack.

To begin with, the weapons used were of a high velocity calibre normally associated with paramilitary groups such as dissident Republicans or even Islamist organisations such as Islamic State.

Pictures have been widely circulated of gunmen carrying Kalashnikov weapons into the Regency Hotel. The pictures are significant for a number of reasons.

Modified and modernised AK47s

The weapons pictured are not AK47s as has been widely reported. They are modified, modernised AK47s known as AKMs. The ‘M’ stands for the Russian word ‘Modernizirovanniy’.

These are battlefield variants of the older AK47 assault weapons. AKMs were modified for use in Vietnam and Afghanistan. The AKM differs from the AK47 in a number of ways to increase the accuracy of the weapon. One distinctive feature of AKMs is a machine-pressed ‘dimple’ above the magazine receiver. Among other distinguishing features, these dimples are clearly visible on the pictures released from Friday’s attack.

If forensic analysis shows that the calibre of the bullets used in Friday’s attack to be smaller than the old, standard-issue 7.62mm ammunition used in earlier variants of AKM – then the weapons used may be AK-74 rifles. The AK-74 is considerably more accurate and lethal than the older, AK47.

5/2/2016. Regency Hotel Shootings Crime Scenes Source: Sasko Lazarov

Irrespective of the weapon type, Friday’s photographs reveal other tell-tale information about the shooters. One of the gunmen is carrying the AKM by the sling. Both weapons are carried in the high-port position – the optimum target selection and firing hold for assault rifles. These visual cues hint at military-standard training on the part of the shooters.

The use of the sling 

The sling is used to steady the AKM whilst in use as the weapon tends to jump and climb as a result of bolt thrust and recoil impulse during firing.

In most Irish gangland killings, the weapons used are of a smaller calibre – often machine pistols and handguns such as Glock automatic pistols. Gangland shootings are also usually frenzied affairs with wild shooting patterns and a high number of rounds expended.

Untrained criminals are extremely unlikely to shoulder a weapon using the sling. Many Irish gangland shootings also are also characterised by the jamming and misfiring of weapons – issues that are rapidly overcome by trained personnel.

The gunmen in the Regency Hotel incident were unhurried and confident in their entry to the hotel. They acted in coordination with several others and calmly and callously selected their target. They murdered David Byrne – execution style – as he lay on the ground.

The Regency Hotel shooting was choreographed to send a clear and explicit message to both the Irish state and the communities which such criminal gangs seek to intimidate and terrorise.

The message is simple – criminal gangs are a law unto themselves.

5/2/2016. Regency Hotel Shootings Crime Scenes Gardai outside the Regency Hotel, Swords Road, Dublin 9.

The fact that some of the gunmen wore garda uniform is an ominous development. In the future, criminals who are paranoid and fearful of armed attack, or high on drugs, may open fire on armed or unarmed gardaí in the belief that they might be other criminals in disguise.

Disguising as gardaí

The wearing of garda uniforms is an unwelcome development in this latest attack and represents an escalation in the organisation, intent and propaganda value of such attacks. The images of the gunmen entering the Regency Hotel have been widely circulated in international print, electronic and digital media.

This attack took place in broad daylight opposite Whitehall Garda Station. Whitehall Garda Station is just one of 139 such stations closed due to austerity and cuts to policing.  Gardaí lack the personnel, training and equipment to deal with the emerging threat posed by so-called organised crime and its nexus with international drugs trafficking and terrorism.

The Uzi submachine gun has not been replaced with an effective alternative to allow gardaí to deal with an incident such as the Regency Hotel shooting. Even if armed detectives had arrived on the scene on Friday - they would have lacked the training and firepower to neutralise the threat posed by an armed gang carrying battlefield-standard assault rifles.

Such attacks by armed groups would not have been tolerated in the Republic during the Troubles. In the aftermath of Friday’s incident, garda representative groups have complained that they lack the investment and resources to counter the threat posed by armed gangs throughout the state.

5/2/2016. Regency Hotel Shootings Crime Scenes Source: Sasko Lazarov

Their numbers, modus operandi and armament are beginning to mirror the activities of subversives during the Troubles. During that period, potential targets of subversives potentially included politicians, judges and senior members of an Garda Síochána itself.  As such, and rightly so, the problem was prioritised and sufficient resources committed to counter the threat.

In 2016 however, the principal victims and targets of organised crime are, predominantly, men from disadvantaged areas in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. The government has not committed sufficient resources to tackle the problem. Whilst Ireland has a broadly similar homicide rate to the rest of Europe, homicides by firearm in the Republic is roughly five times higher than the EU average.

Ten days ago in TheJournal.ie, I compared the levels of violence used by Irish criminal gangs to that of groups such as Islamic state. I predicted more bloodshed. The outgoing coalition have hollowed out and politicised our policing service.

The next government needs to re-invest in the gardaí and counter this emerging threat to the security of the state. Our front line gardaí deserve better leadership at government level.

Above all, our citizens deserve better.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. He is also an Independent candidate for Senate-TCD Panel. You can follow him on Twitter here.    

Read: ‘Ireland’s gang killings are remarkably similar to ISIS murders’>

Read: CIRA made statement to set themselves up as “the protectors of the people”>

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About the author:

Tom Clonan  / Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

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