Continuity IRA profiled: Splinter group from Provisional IRA financed by protection money
THE Continuity IRA is one of a number of renegade splinter factions that became active after the Provisional IRA called an end to its armed campaign.
Among its worst atrocities was the 2009 murder of police officer Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, Co Armagh.
Ambushed as he responded to a 999 call, the constable was the first member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to be murdered by terrorists.
But Continuity IRA ranks are as likely to extort cash from drug dealers and run rackets from pub and club owners in Dublin and elsewhere as they are to target security forces.
And they are not the only dissident faction to intimidate criminals or demand protection money from them, with the Real IRA also big players.
As a result, murder by so-called dissidents, reprisals by gangsters and suspected tit-for-tat attacks and gun killings are not unheard of.
Alan Ryan, whose murder was said to have been avenged in the Regency Hotel, was regarded as running one of the most lucrative extortion rackets in Dublin.
Murdered in September 2012, he was a leader of a faction of the Real IRA in the city.
Eamon Kelly, a career criminal dubbed The Godfather, was shot dead in broad daylight near his home in Killester, north Dublin three months later and an IRA figure subsequently pleaded guilty to the murder.
Continuity IRA figure Declan Smith, reportedly an associate of Ryan at one time, was a murder suspect on-the-run from Belfast, when he was shot in the face dropping a youngster to a creche in Donaghmede, Dublin in 2014.
A claim of responsibility for the Regency Hotel would mark a severe escalation of the dissident group's audacity.
Three of the gang carried Kalashnikov assault rifles, while the discriminate nature of the shootings displayed an unnerving departure from the hit-and-run style of handgun killings which dominate Dublin's gangland wars.
There is no way of verifying the Continuity IRA claim, albeit that it followed a pattern from the Troubles of a phone call to a respected journalist and newsroom and a code word added to the message.
While senior gardai initially ruled out terrorist involvement, instead focusing on a deepening dispute between drugs gangs based in Dublin and the Costa del Sol, speculation will centre on the veracity of the dissident claim.
Questions are being asked if the unit was in effect a gun for hire to avenge the murder of Gary Hutch in Marbella last year or if the claim is deliberate misinformation by gangsters or if dissidents are so heavily embroiled in the drugs trade that they have taken sides in a dispute.
Regardless, a major headache for the police is not if, but when, retaliation will hit.
There were three murders classed by the Garda as gangland last year, compared to 17 in 2010 and 22 in 2009.
The Continuity IRA can trace its origins to the formation of Republican Sinn Fein in 1986, a hard-line faction opposed to republicans taking seats in the Irish parliament.
Other splinter organisations include the Real IRA, "new" IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH).
Their structures are fluid, with members often shifting allegiances or co-operating, and many Provo veterans make up the ranks alongside younger recruits with no first-hand experience of the Troubles.
They claim their objectives are ostensibly political, and they continue to mount sporadic and sometimes deadly attacks against the security forces, but their money comes from cross border smuggling, racketeering, fuel fraud and drug dealing.
Dissidents often proclaim so-called republicanism as a justification for killing drug dealers - claiming their motive is the protection of their community when, in reality, the attacks are usually about protecting their own criminal enterprises.