By Anne Cadwallader
Two men were killed within 24 hours in North Belfast as fears rose of a gradual upturn in sectarian violence involving both republicans and loyalists opposed to the peace process.
The death of one man, taxi driver Trevor Kell, late Tuesday, Dec. 5, remains unclaimed. All three main republican groups have denied involvement, but the RUC chief constable says he has forensic evidence to link the death to republicans.
In apparent revenge for that killing, a Catholic housing worker was shot dead within 24 hours and another Catholic worker was shot and critically wounded at a taxi depot in North Belfast.
Then, at the weekend, a Protestant taxi driver was shot and seriously wounded by loyalists who had believed he was a Catholic, after luring him into a Protestant area of Derry city.
The two murders and two attempted murders have raised tensions and fears of a decline into a spiral of violence over the Christmas period. There has been claim and counterclaim on who was responsible for all four attacks, but no group has admitted involvement.
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The first killing came when a Protestant taxi driver, who worked for the Circle Cabs company in the lower Shankill area, was lured to a street just outside the nationalist Ardoyne district in North Belfast.
He was shot at point-blank range and died soon afterward. Kell, 34, was the father of three children and had UDA links. His death was immediately linked by many to the loyalist feud, but both the UDA and UVF denied involvement within 24 hours.
Rumors spread that loyalists were blaming the death on dissident republicans, although the location where he was shot was outside Ardoyne and in a predominantly loyalist area.
As a result of the speculation, as night fell the following day, two gunmen shot dead a Catholic housing worker, Gary Moore, from Dungiven, Co. Derry, as he worked renovating homes in the mainly Protestant Monkstown area of Newtownabbey, north of Belfast.
Twenty minutes later, about four miles away, gunmen opened fire on Catholic man Paul Scullion outside a taxi stand on a notorious interface between the Ardoyne and Oldpark areas in North Belfast, close to where Kell had earlier been killed.
Scullion remains hospitalized, fighting for his life, since the attack. He was hit by six bullets in the stomach and chest. Although he lost a lot of blood, none of the bullets hit a vital organ.
Sinn Féin said it believes the UDA murdered Moore and tried to murder Scullion. It also alleged RUC collusion in the attacks. Speaking at a vigil in North Belfast on Friday, Sinn Féin assembly member Gerry Kelly said accusations the IRA was responsible for Kell’s murder had led to the attacks.
"Finger-pointing after the killing of Trevor Kell on Tuesday night led directly to the murder of Gary Moore and the attempted murder of Paul Scullion," he said. "There is no doubt that the UDA was behind the attacks."
Kelly said the attempted murder took place below an RUC spy post, "yet the attackers had been able to calmly make their getaway." Kelly also said a "sinister hand" was behind Kell’s murder in an attempt to destabilize the peace process.
Four days after Moore’s murder, another man was seriously injured, this time in Derry city, by loyalists who had tried to lure a Catholic into a trap. The injured man was called out at 3:50 a.m. to collect a fare from a loyalist area in the Waterside. The would-be killers had not realized that Catholic and Protestant taxi drivers swap fares to avoid being called out to areas where they feel at risk.
Both the police and politicians said the motive was sectarian and that the intended target was a Catholic, but the gunmen shot a Protestant by mistake. "Here we had somebody ringing for a taxi to a particular company and that company then transferring it to another company," said DUP councillor William Hay.
"This is why we have a Protestant injured and lying in a hospital this morning. It was certainly an attempted murder on a Roman Catholic. It has to be condemned. This is sickening. People who carry out these attempted murders quite obviously are sick."
A leading loyalist has voiced serious concerns that this week’s killings were sparked off by a British military intelligence dirty-tricks operation. PUP spokesman Billy Hutchinson blamed MI5 for the murder of Trevor Kell, who was buried on Saturday.
RUC sources say the gun used to kill Kell had earlier been used to murder two RUC men in June 1997. One man has been arrested and questioned about the murder at Gough Barracks in Armagh city.