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Loyalist splinter groups step up sectarian attacks

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — There are fears that two splinter loyalist groups, the Orange Volunteers and Red Hand Defenders, are gearing up for a sustained campaign of sectarian attacks on Catholic families.

For the time being, the two groups, which comprise anti-agreement loyalists, seem content to injure and terrify nationalists, though some law enforcement officials believe their tactics could turn murderous as early as the end of this month. To date, they have carried out bomb attacks in Southeast Antrim and North Belfast, and in one case the Red Hand Defenders shot dead a Catholic, Brian Service, last October in Belfast.

Some members are believed to have been loyal to murdered LVF leader Billy "King Rat" Wright, while others may be dissident members of the UDA and UFF, which are currently on cease-fire

The key dates that officials fear may trigger further violence are Feb. 15, when the Stormont Assembly is to debate approving the cross-border implementation bodies, all-Ireland Ministerial Council and size of the proposed Executive, and March 10, when power is to be devolved from Westminster to the assembly.

There groups have been blamed for almost daily attacks in the last week, with pipe bombs used against Catholic families in Larne, Carrickfergus and Dungannon.

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In the most recent, at Dungannon, Mary Quinn, a Catholic woman, and her four children were sleeping in their home when a pipe bomb was thrown through their kitchen window.

It did not explode, however, and was dealt with by British Army explosives experts who carried out a controlled explosion.

Other attacks took place in Magherafelt on Jan. 6, when a Catholic workman was injured, and on Jan. 19 in Loughinisland, when a Catholic man was hurt in the arm and groin.

The Orange Volunteers group has also staged a "show of strength" for TV journalists and threatened all republican prisoners on the early release scheme under the Good Friday Agreement.

Their thinking appears to be the familiar loyalist strategy that Catholics and nationalists will reduce their political aspirations if they believe they can avert a loyalist violence.

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