GARDAI are stepping up the pressure on the killers of Detective Adrian Donohoe after the arrest of two suspected associates of gang members.
The two men – a father and son – were in garda custody last night as investigators carefully built up a dossier on the thugs believed to have gunned down the father of two four weeks ago.
The two were detained in connection with an unrelated offence last year.
But gardai believe they are linked to a group of car ‘ringers’, who may have supplied the stolen Volkswagen Passat that was used by the murder gang in their getaway from the scene at Lordship credit union, outside Dundalk.
The ‘ringers’ have been heavily involved in the theft of vehicles on both sides of the Border in counties Louth, Monaghan, Armagh and Down in the past couple of years.
They dismantle the cars and fit them with parts from other vehicles before selling them off, mainly overseas, with the help of Eastern European contacts.
Gardai hunting the Donohoe killers believe some of the ‘ringers’ were either involved in, or had knowledge of, the theft of the navy-coloured Passat from outside a house in Clogherhead, Co Louth, three nights before the murder and that they could also have provided assistance in storing the car until it was used in the getaway.
The ‘ringers’ are thought to have been operating out of the Dundalk area in recent months and using it as a base for their cross-border missions. Detectives are now trying to establish where the car was kept after it was stolen and the route used by the killers after the murder.
The 08-registered model was driven erratically from Lordship that Friday night and was found burnt out the following Sunday in a wooded area near Darkley in south Armagh.
Gardai believe that the two men in custody had been closely associated with some of the 'ringers' in recent months.
The men, in their 30s and 70s, were arrested early yesterday as gardai carried out six searches as part of their inquiries into criminal and subversive activity in the Dundalk area. They were taken to Drogheda garda station and held for questioning under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act.
They can be held without charge for up to three days.
The father and son were detained primarily for questioning about suspected membership of an illegal dissident republican group and the discovery of a large bomb, fully primed, near the Border on April 26 last.
The bomb consisted of two blue barrels, each packed with 125kg of homemade explosive and a detonator, and was described as a viable device that was capable of killing and causing major damage to property.
A cross-border road between Newry and Dundalk was sealed off after the bomb was abandoned by republican terrorists at Fathom Line, outside Newry.
Anti-terrorist officers believe the device had been intended to lure police into the area and then kill them.
Police inquiries into that incident have been ongoing over the past 10 months on both sides of the Border and detectives from Dundalk have been investigating the involvement of local dissidents.
Gardai are satisfied that dissident sympathisers in the area have been associating with local criminals for several years.
During the Real IRA cross-border bombing campaign in 1998 that culminated in the Omagh atrocity that August, the terrorist chiefs based in the border area used a gang of car thieves based in west Dublin and north Kildare to supply vehicles for their attacks.
But most of the attacks were foiled by the Garda Emergency Response Unit as a result of intelligence gathering and surveillance.
That campaign collapsed after Omagh. But there have been several attempts at restarting it and the emergence of a new alliance of terror groups has been met by increased security on both sides of the Border.
Investigations into the Donohoe murder have also resulted in fresh information emerging about past incidents, such as the aborted Newry bomb attack.
Gardai are studying their files on previous crimes in which the killers were believed to have been involved and establishing a profile of each gang member.