By Jack Holland
The killing of a Protestant taxi driver in North Belfast last week has been linked to the Real IRA, according to reliable security sources. It follows the defection to the RIRA of a leading member of the Provisional IRA in the Lurgan area of North Armagh. The weapon used in the Belfast murder has been traced to a North Armagh arms dump and, according to reports, was used in other murders there over the years.
Security sources say that six months ago, the former officer commanding the North Armagh Provisionals was expelled from the republican movement and is now believed to be a member of the RIRA, the organization responsible for the Omagh bombing which left 29 people dead, most of them women and children, in August 1998.
The former O/C was said to have become an embarrassment to the Provisionals, mainly due to his "womanizing," according to these sources.
"He was getting into fights with too many angry husbands," said one.
However, it is also thought that the former O/C had challenged the Provisional leadership. He was known to be increasingly unhappy with their peace process strategy.
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Police have linked him to about 15 murders since the late 1980s, including the shooting of four duck hunters near Lough Neagh in November 1990. Two of them were off-duty members of the RUC. He was also questioned about the murders of two RUC officers in Lurgan in June 1997. He was represented by Rosemary Nelson, murdered by loyalists in March 1999.
He is known to make frequent visits to Belfast, though he has not been linked directly to the murder of taxi driver Trevor Kell.
That murder last week sparked off a series of revenge attacks on Catholics that left a building worker dead and a taxi driver seriously wounded. Another taxi driver, a Protestant, was shot and seriously injured in Derry City in what is believed to have been a case of mistaken identity. The police believe that these attacks have been ordered by Johnny Adair, the imprisoned Ulster Defense Association leader. Adair is due for release soon after having been held since September, when he was rearrested for violating his parole conditions following a feud between the UDA and UVF.
Adair’s UDA faction is believed to have close links with the Loyalist Volunteer Force.