Crime godfather dies in gangland assassination: The battle for supremacy in Dublin's criminal fraternity has claimed its most infamous victim. Alan Murdoch reports

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The Independent Online
IRELAND'S most notorious crime godfather, Martin Cahill, known as 'the general', was shot dead in Dublin yesterday in a carefully planned gangland assassination.

A caller to a Dublin radio station last night claiming to represent the 'Dublin-Belfast Brigade' of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a Republican splinter group, said it had carried out the shooting. It was the most spectacular in a series of murders and shootings that marked an escalating battle for supremacy within the city's organised crime fraternity in recent months.

Cahill's death also ends a 20- year battle with gardai that veered from the vicious to the farcical. The 45-year-old criminal took every opportunity to embarrass gardai, keeping files on individual detectives and even breaking into the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions to seize files relating to robberies he had directed.

When under intense garda surveillance in the late Eighties, he sounded his car horn whenever he passed the homes of gardai. He also had the greens of a garda golf club dug up, vehicles outside garda stations vandalised, and tyres slashed on cars in neighbouring streets while detectives were watching his house.

Cahill was shot in the inner Dublin suburb of Ranelagh close to his home in a modern middle- class development in the nearby Rathmines area.

Witnesses said a man wearing a jacket similar to those used by Dublin Corporation workers walked out into the road and fired a single shot as Cahill turned his black Renault 5 into Charleston Road.

After the car careered across the street and crashed into a wall the gunman walked across and fired four more shots into the driver's body at close range.

One resident said the assassin, in his mid-thirties and with dark brown hair, was driven away at speed in the Rathmines direction by a motorcyclist, who had been waiting nearby for about 15 minutes. While waiting, the gunman had masqueraded as a traffic warden, noting car registration numbers.

Cahill's most daring robbery was the theft in 1986 of 11 Old Masters from the Sir Alfred Beit art collection at Russborough House in Co Wicklow.

The stolen works, which included priceless oils by Goya, Vermeer and Metsu, were later traced to locations as far apart as Turkey and the Netherlands.

Born in 1949 in the south Dublin working-class suburb of Crumlin, Cahill received his first petty crime conviction at the age of 11. He served sentences in reform school and later in Mountjoy jail, where he formed alliances with violent criminals with whom he later created a highly disciplined gang.

He was the mastermind of a series of major armed robberies in Dublin and provincial centres, the most successful on a jewellery factory in Dublin in 1983, netting a haul worth IR pounds 2m.

Brought to court in 1988 for failing to observe a court order to keep the peace, he wore a balaclava and dropped his trousers to reveal Mickey Mouse shorts.

Last November, directing a new gang, he was blamed for the kidnapping of the family of Jim Lacey, a Dublin banker. They were released after a ransom of IR pounds 243,000 was paid.

Cahill's killing follows a series of shootings in the inner-city area in recent months. Gardai believe his his death may be linked to a he had recently with an INLA leader, after which Cahill had the man's home burnt down.

(Photograph omitted)