IRA dissident abducted and beaten by gang

POLICE ON both sides of the Irish border are investigating an incident in which a republican critic of the IRA was abducted and held for some hours early yesterday.

Although there were fears that the man would be killed, he was released, badly bruised on the head and body, after eight hours in which he is assumed to have been in the hands of the IRA.

Last week a former IRA supergrass, Eamon Collins, was killed in a republican district of Newry, Co Down, which he had refused to leave, despite a campaign of threats and intimidation. It has not been established whether he was killed by the IRA or other republican elements.

The man abducted yesterday was Paddy Fox, a former IRA prisoner from Co Tyrone. At 3am he was surrounded by men in the car park of a hotel in Co Monaghan, on the southern side of the border, and dragged into a van. With the Collins murder fresh in everyone's mind, there were worries that Mr Fox would not be seen alive again.

Gardai in the Irish Republic and the RUC in the north launched a hunt for him, but around lunchtime he reportedly telephoned a relative to say he had been released. The incident is assumed to be another instance of IRA intimidation and "internal discipline".

Mr Fox was known as a dissident who opposed the peace process and Sinn Fein's policy of becoming involved in the new Belfast assembly. In an interview with a newspaper last week he accused the IRA of acting as "the policemen of the peace process".

He added: "It's because since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement I've been critical of the republican leadership. When people asked me what I thought of the agreement, I would voice my opinion. I tell them I don't think the struggle was worth that. Is that what men were fighting and dying for? Is that why we went to jail?"

The abducted man's parents, Charles and Teresa Fox, were shot dead by loyalists while he was serving a 10-year prison sentence for possession of an IRA bomb.

He said that last November an IRA gang wearing gloves had searched his home, and that two weeks ago he escaped another abduction attempt not far from his home at Dungannon, Co Tyrone. He had taken extra security precautions, reportedly moving around Ireland in an attempt to evade the IRA.

Meanwhile, the RUC Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said police were close to identifying those who bombed Omagh, Co Tyrone, last August, killing 29 people. He described the investigation, which had involved interviewing hundreds of witnesses, as going very well.

Sir Ronnie added: "We are very close to knowing who is involved in this atrocity. It is wrong to consider that at any given deadline we are about to bring charges. We will bring charges but there is much yet to be done."

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