Violent Londonderry-based Irish republican group boasts it 'can do everything the IRA used to do'
Belfast-born David McKittrick has been reporting on Northern Ireland since 1971, He has written for the East Antrim Times, the Irish Times and was The Independent's Irish correspondent for many years. He is the author of several books including Making Sense of the Troubles (2000) and Lost Lives (1999).
Wednesday 20 June 2012
A violent republican vigilante group which in recent years has murdered one man and wounded dozens of others has claimed it as both community support and stores of weapons and explosives.
The group, based in the Northern Ireland city of Londonderry, boasted: "We can do everything the IRA used to do - we have the capability" in an interview broadcast last night by the BBC Newsnight programme.
Leaders of Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) gave Newsnight their first face-to-face interviews as part of a report on their activities. On the programme their words were spoken by an actor.
They declared: "We don't operate in a vacuum. We have weapons to store, explosives to store, cars to store, so we are helped by the community. Our ability to mount operations shows we have community support."
Local people maintain it has only minimal support. The group is made up of former members of the IRA, which has been inactive for more than a decade.
RAAD's main activity has been to carry out "punishment" shootings on men and youths it claims are involved in drug trafficking, wounding them in the legs or arms or both.
In the interview, they said they were protecting their community from "parasites" who sold drugs to "little children or vulnerable people."
They added: "We are fathers, husbands - we live, we go to work, we're just ordinary people, ordinary people with a past. And people say to us: 'There's a problem, help us, you used to be in the IRA.'"
The number of shooting attacks has dropped to a total of five this year from a high of 17 in 2009, but in February one man, Andrew Allen, was killed in a shooting attack near the city.
Although the number of attacks has gone down, local people have increasingly voiced anger against the violence, holding a recent rally to call on the gunmen to stop.
Local police commander Chief Superintendent Steve Martin has admitted his force has a low detection rate in such cases.
He told Newsnight: "They are a small group which makes them difficult to target. They operate in a fairly tight geographical area. They comprise people who were involved in IRA activity and therefore have developed a certain level of ability in carrying out their crimes and evading detection."
Some weeks ago the mother of a teenager related how she had been ordered to take her son to a location where he was shot twice. She said she had done so because she was afraid that otherwise her son, who she said was a drug user, would have been shot six times.
She explained: "It had to be done. If it hadn't the consequences would have been worse."
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