Guns have been found as part of an inquiry into two murders linked to a fall-out among dissident republicans in Belfast, it was revealed tonight.
Police discovered the weapons, a shotgun and pistol, in bushes just yards from where black taxi driver Joey Jones, 38, was bludgeoned to death in the city’s northern Ardoyne district.
Forensic tests were also being carried out on a spade seized in the area which may have been used in the murder.
The body of Mr Jones, who sources said had Continuity IRA connections, was found yesterday morning.
Hours earlier Eddie Burns, 36, was shot dead near a GAA club on west Belfast’s Falls Road.
Detectives are still waiting to question a man in hospital with bullet wounds. Damien O’Neill claimed he was attacked at the same location where Mr Burns was killed.
They confirmed a connection between the murders, which came amid a new spate of gun attacks.
Ballistic tests are to be carried out on the guns to establish if they were used in the shooting of Mr Burns.
Two homes in Ardoyne, a fiercely republican neighbourhood, were sprayed with bullets earlier this month in what is believed to be part of the same outbreak of violence.
Detective Superintendent George Clarke, who is heading the hunt for the killers, said: “The police belief is that these two murders are linked and they they were committed against the backdrop of tensions within dissident republicanism.”
With death threats issued before the killings by a shadowy group with dissident republican paramilitary backgrounds intent on some kind of purge, many feared bloodshed was inevitable.
Mr Burns, a father-of-five from Ardoyne, was shot twice and dumped in an area known as Bog Meadows.
His sister Kate refused to speculate on a possible motive.
She said: “We want to bury our brother in peace. We don’t want people saying he was this or that.
"We need to grieve for him.”
The family’s home is close to the alleyway where Mr Jones’ body was found battered beyond recognition.
The father of three, from Poleglass on Belfast’s western outskirts, had quit his job with the West Belfast Taxi Association in January.
Depot boss Stephen Long said tonight: “We never had any issues with Joey. It’s tragic that someone so young should be killed like that.”
The victim’s devastated wife, Linda, was said to be dumbfounded over why he was targeted.
“She is totally shocked and distressed by the circumstances surrounding his murder,” a friend who comforted her today said.
The weapons seizure in Ardoyne came after overnight petrol bomb attacks between rival factions in the area ravaged by sectarian tensions.
Police confirmed a number of items were recovered at Butler Place and were taken for examination.
A spokeswoman added: “It’s too early to speculate whether there’s any link to the ongoing investigation into the murders of two men in north and west Belfast.”