IRA blamed for republican's death

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The Independent Online

The IRA is now the prime suspect for the killing of a dissident republican figure who was shot dead in west Belfast on Friday, security sources in Belfast have revealed.

The IRA is now the prime suspect for the killing of a dissident republican figure who was shot dead in west Belfast on Friday, security sources in Belfast have revealed.

Initial speculation in the district centred on a possible disagreement within fringe republican groups, but the sources say it is virtually certain that the shooting, in the republican Ballymurphy estate, was the work of the IRA.

Joseph O'Connor, a 26-year-old with three children, had just left his mother's house and got into a car when gunmen approached and shot him at point-blank range. He died instantly.

Last night, a statement from the so-called Real IRA, which killed 29 people in the 1998 Omagh bombing, described Mr O'Connor as a volunteer in the organisation. The dissident group blamed the IRA for the killing, saying they knew who had planned and carried it out, and threatening retaliation.

Earlier, the victim's mother, Margaret, had blamed the IRA, saying of the gunmen in a BBC interview: "They were seen. Locals saw them. People saw them with their masks on and with their masks off. They are a known unit within the Ballymurphy district."

The IRA has not previously killed any members of splinter groups such as the Real IRA or Continuity IRA, which have been responsible for sporadic attacks, usually on security force targets, in recent months.

The mainstream IRA was also blamed by the Unionist politician Jeffrey Donaldson, who is seeking to pull his party out of the cross-community devolved government which includes Sinn Fein. He said yesterday: "I don't believe we can sustain indefinitely our participation in an executive that includes representatives of the IRA who engage in murder on the streets and refuse to decommission their weapons."

Meanwhile, a man and his two sons narrowly escaped injury at the weekend when a bomb exploded under their Isuzu Trooper vehicle in west Belfast. The man believed he had been targeted by loyalists because he is a Catholic. The device is believed to be similar to others planted by loyalists.

In another paramilitary-style attack, a 21-year-old man was recovering in hospital last night after being shot in the left leg. He had been seized by a number of men as he walked past Drumcor Court in the loyalist Rathcoole estate, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim.

On Saturday morning a 22-year-old man was shot in both legs at his girlfriend's house in Newtownards, Co Down. The woman suffered a minor injury.

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