British 'knew IRA Disappeared killers before their first murder'
The British army knew about the IRA gang responsible for the majority of the so-called Disappeared before they had even killed their first victim, it has been claimed.
'The Unknowns' are believed to have been behind the abduction, murder and secret burial of at least 15 people.
Documents have emerged that indicate military intelligence knew about the unit months before it started its campaign, which left families without the remains of loved ones, in some cases for decades.
West Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville was murdered by the IRA and secretly buried across the Border just before Christmas in 1972. Her remains were not found until 2003.
Journalist Ed Moloney has reported that a military file recently unearthed from the UK's National Archives in Kew reveals army commanders were aware of the IRA unit as early as April 1972, around four months before the first of the Disappeared cases, that of Joe Lynskey, who was shot and buried in an unmarked grave.
The IRA did not admit his murder until 2010. A fresh search for his remains is ongoing in Co Meath.
Mr Moloney published the military document on Sunday on his thebrokenelbow.com website. It details a log of incidents compiled at army headquarters, dated April 25, 1972.
There is a report of an armed robbery carried out by three men, apparently IRA members. Soldiers arrested three people and recovered a pistol. The robbery was in Manor Street in Oldpark, Belfast, but the precise target was not identified.
The document describes one of the men as "vol 'the Unknowns'", meaning a volunteer in the Unknowns.
Mr Moloney reports: "This suggests that not only did the military know about the Unknowns, but they may have been aware of the unit's membership." The man's full name and address is redacted on the website for his safety.
Mr Moloney told 'The Guardian' newspaper: "The revelation that the British military had enough knowledge of the unit to quickly identify one of its members begs some obvious and potentially difficult questions for Whitehall.
"How and what did the army know about the unit, did they have a source inside the Unknowns, and, crucially, what, if anything, did the military know about the IRA's practice of disappearing people?"
The remains of 13 of the Disappeared have been recovered in the decades since.