Tuesday 13 November 2018

Radicals detained over Ulster murders

Six arrested while guns and ammunition found

ARE WE BACK TO THE BAD OLD DAYS: Rioters set a PSNI van alight in Lurgan yesterday
ARE WE BACK TO THE BAD OLD DAYS: Rioters set a PSNI van alight in Lurgan yesterday

JIM CUSACK

Members of an extreme left-wing republican group which was established in Dublin before moving to the North were in PSNI custody last night, being questioned about the murders of the two soldiers and policeman last week.

The extremist group has sought to link itself with legitimate protest groups over the last two years.

Three men, including a 41-year-old Armagh man who is a member of the splinter republican group Eirigi, were being questioned by PSNI detectives about the murders of two British Army engineers, Sapper Mark Quinsey, 23, and Sapper Patrick Azimkar, 21, in Antrim last weekend.

An ex-Sinn Fein councillor and a 17-year-old youth were also being questioned about last Monday's murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll.

Another man detained is believed to be the son of a notorious republican gunman who took part in scores of terrorist attacks. This detained man was also involved in some legitimate protests.

Police tracking the dissident republicans last night found a gun and ammunition in Craigavon, where Constable Carroll was murdered. They also arrested a 30-year-old woman and a 37-year-old man in connection with serious terrorist crime. A man was also held in Co Antrim.

In the past year, according to gardai, "disgruntled" former Provisional IRA figures have joined dissident groups, bringing bomb-making and operational skills. One senior source said the attack on Massereene Barracks in Antrim showed the gunmen had been trained, possibly while they were members of the Provisional IRA.

After last week's murders, people in west Belfast held pickets outside homes of former Sinn Fein members who have become associated with the Eirigi group. After the murders, a spokesmen denied it supported armed violence. However, on other occasions its members have defended the "right" to use "armed struggle in the right context".

The Armagh man was arrested at a house in Lurgan, Co Armagh, early yesterday morning and taken to Antrim PSNI station for questioning. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in 1995 but his conviction was later overturned. He was later charged with the murders of two policemen but these charges were also dropped.

Two other men, aged 31 and 32, were arrested in the south Co Derry village of Belaghy yesterday.

Eirigi was formed in early 2007 after a group split from Sinn Fein when the party voted to support policing in the North. In the past year the group has been recruiting members and has attracted figures known for their extreme views.

In January, the British Army had to deal with the most sophisticated bomb in the North in over a decade. It took five days to defuse and dismantle the booby-trapped 300lb device left outside Castlewellan, Co Down.

analysis pages 24,25,31,32

There have even been concerns voiced for the safety of Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness after he branded the dissidents "traitors" last week.

One of the objectives of the dissidents is to cause friction between Sinn Fein and their DUP partners in government.

The disparity of the dissident groups had, until last week, been seen as their main weakness. There were at least four separate groups terming themselves the Real IRA, one of which has now re-branded itself Oglaigh na hEireann and is led by a former senior member of the Provisional IRA.

In addition to this is the Continuity IRA, which claimed responsibility for murdering Constable Stephen Carroll, and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), which is involved in extorting money from drug dealers on both sides of the Border. There are Continuity IRA cells operating in Fermanagh and south Donegal.

The official "chief of staff" of the Continuity IRA is a member of the splinter political party, Republican Sinn Fein, but the man directing Continuity IRA attacks in Fermanagh, Tyrone and north Armagh is another former Provisional IRA figure, aged 55, living near the border in Fermanagh.

Figures from the Continuity group in north Armagh and some from the Real IRA in south Derry -- those believed responsible for the barracks attack -- linked up last year.

The latest terror campaigns are being funded by associates in Dublin who have been extorting money from smaller drug gangs. They have also been selling pipe bombs to the gangs. Last year, the British Army dealt with 58 viable devices. This year it has dealt with at least six sophisticated devices, leading the army to believe former Provisional IRA bomb-makers are active again. The bomb in January is believed to have been built by the same Provisional IRA man who made bombs used in attacks in the Eighties and Nineties.

The Continuity IRA has been most active in Fermanagh. Last June, PSNI officers were lured to an area near Roslea where a landmine failed to explode. There were failed bomb attacks in August, October and December. Last May an off-duty PSNI officer was severely injured when a bomb went off under his car at Castlederg, Co Tyrone.

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