A weapons haul thought to have been used by the so-called "New IRA" in attempts to kill police officers has been discovered in a residential boiler house.

Two AK-47 rifles, two sawn-off shotguns, a high-powered rifle with a silencer fitted, three pipe bombs and more than 100 assorted rounds of ammunition were also stored in the building that set fire in Belfast on Wednesday.

Police believe the weapons belonged to dissident republicans and may have been kept in the outhouse without the knowledge of the resident of the home.

The guns, bombs and bullets were stored on top of an operating domestic boiler, and officers believe the fire may have been triggered when part of the weapons haul ignited due to the heat.

The haul was found when police and firefighters attended the scene of the blaze.

Detective Superintendent John McVea, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s terrorism investigation unit, said: We firmly believe these weapons belong to the New IRA.

It beggars belief that anyone would store items as volatile as bombs and bullets in a hot environment.

This is simply reckless, it is stupid and it shows total disregard for the safety of local residents.

Anyone with an ounce of sense would have known that live ammunition and pipe bombs mixed with heat is a recipe for carnage.

He added: As the fire developed, some of these rounds exploded causing significant danger to local residents and the fire service who were trying to put out the fire.

Police believe the AK-47s may have been used in two separate dissident attacks on police – one in the Rossnareen Avenue area of west Belfast in November 2015 and the other on a garage forecourt on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast in January 2017.

A police car patrolling Rossnareen Avenue was riddled with up to eight bullets in the first attack.

Armoured plating and bulletproof glass was credited with saving the lives of the two officers inside the vehicle when they were ambushed.

A policeman survived despite being shot three times in the arm when gunmen opened fire on him as he got out of a parked police car at the Crumlin Road garage in the second attack.

Officers said it was fortunate no members of the public were also shot as bullets flew across the busy petrol station forecourt.

Mr McVea said on Friday: The Crumlin Road shooting in particular was reckless and showed total disregard for members of the public as bullets entered the filling station shop, narrowly missing customers and passing motorists.

The detective said he believed the weapons were moved into the boiler house on Monday evening after 9pm.

He urged anyone who saw anything suspicious in the alleyway behind Rodney Drive to come forward.

Mr McVea said: We are lucky there hasn’t been significant injury as the fire developed.

He added: I am asking the community to stand up against these parasites.

The detective said a neighbour first reported the fire, with the occupant of the house then also calling the emergency services to alert them to the blaze.

A 35-year-old man who was arrested under the Terrorism Act on Wednesday was subsequently released unconditionally.

(c) Sky News 2018: ‘New IRA’ weapons found in Belfast boiler house that caught fire