A former loyalist paramilitary activist was murdered late on Monday night as he left the home of his 16-year-old Catholic girlfriend in Strabane, County Tyrone.
Charles Folliard, who was 30, had just left the house in the republican Ballycolman estate when he was approached by two masked men and shot several times. He was taken to hospital but died a short time later.
Although he had served seven years in prison for conspiring to murder a Catholic man, Mr Folliard was said to have severed all paramilitary connections after his release a few years ago. Nevertheless, the relationship was regarded as unusual in terms of the couple's religion and their age difference.
Three killings within a few days in Northern Ireland have provided highly unwelcome reminders that the recent arms decommissioning by the IRA has not put an end to violence.
A number of other non-lethal incidents and disturbances have underlined the existence of a long-established culture of violence which looks likely to continue for many years.
Although there have been traces of support for republican dissidents in the Ballycolman estate, the district is regarded as predominantly supportive of mainstream republicanism.
This immediately raised the question of whether the shooting had been carried out by IRA members, possibly as a pointed expression of disapproval of the IRA decommissioning.
Superintendent Clifford Best, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, blamed republicans but stopped short of specifically accusing the IRA. He said: "We believe paramilitaries were behind this murder and we are confident that republican terrorists were involved. A sectarian motive is one of the avenues we are looking at."
The possibility of IRA involvement was dismissed in the most direct terms by the Sinn Fein MP for the area, Pat Doherty, who said he was sure the IRA had not carried out the murder.
Saying he believed it was carried out by elements opposed to the IRA's move, he added: "I am confident the IRA cessation remains intact. Whoever carried it out were enemies of the peace process and the current developments."
Derek Hussey, an Ulster Unionist Assembly member, said: "There is a suspicion that it has been carried out by republicans, so it seems there is some concern that republicans are having difficulty with the developments that have taken place politically."
The security authorities seemed genuinely unsure yesterday who had carried out the attack. Clearly any revelation that the IRA members were involved would seriously undermine the hope generated by the organisation's arms move.
Meanwhile, a member of the Royal Irish Rangers, the locally recruited section of the British Army, was charged with the murder of a Catholic man elsewhere in Tyrone on Sunday night. Glen Strong, 27, is accused of killing Colin Foy in a hotel in Fivemiletown. A third recent killing, in Craigavon, Co Armagh, is believed to have been drugs-related.
In Belfast a leading loyalist was refused bail when he appeared in court on charges related to recent disturbances in the north of the city.
Jim Simpson, 43, was charged with riotous behaviour and inciting others to riot. A large number of Mr Simpson's supporters attended the hearing and more than 20 riot police lined both sides of the court.Reuse content