Loyalist paramilitaries declare new war of terror in Ulster: Political assassinations and no-warning bombs may be added to the tactics of Protestant gangs, reports David McKittrick

NORTHERN Ireland is bracing itself for a wave of loyalist violence. All the indications suggest that extreme Protestant groups intend to step up their activities to new levels. They have already doubled their killing rate in the past two years, but the signs are that they aim to increase it still further - and there are fears that they are planning political assassinations and the use of no-warning bombings.

Loyalists have already openly warned that they will intensify their violence 'to a ferocity never imagined'. Security sources say that this is no empty threat and intelligence reports indicate plans for violence on a scale not seen since the Seventies. They are particularly worried that loyalist rhetoric about what was described as 'the pan- nationalist front' means that not only republicans but also constitutional nationalist politicians are under threat.

The security assessment is supported by community activists in loyalist areas. One said: 'Some of these new paramilitary leaders won't listen to anybody. The old guard would at least listen to you, but some of the new ones - you just can't talk to them at all.'

The largest loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association, has in recent years replaced older leaders with younger and more militant men. It was banned by the Government last year, partly on the strength of intelligence reports that its leaders were uninterested in politics and were intent only on more shootings. But the ban has been of little practical help to the RUC in arresting activists, and there are signs that the detection rate is falling. Loyalist killings are at their highest point since the worst days of the Seventies. For two years now they have exceeded those of the IRA.

The traditional killing fields of north Belfast and mid-Ulster are as dangerous as ever, and violence has increased in south and east Belfast where extreme Protestants killed 16 people last year. In south Belfast, some of the killings appear to indicate loyalists venting their disapproval of a rising Catholic population.

As has always been the case, the majority of loyalist victims are non-political Catholics, often killed at random. Only four of last year's 38 victims were known republicans, and only one was involved in paramilitary activity. Eight more had a family connection with republicans but were not themselves known to be involved. In one case, the elderly parents of an IRA man were shot dead; in another, the brother of a former Sinn Fein councillor was killed.

Twenty of the dead had no known political or paramilitary associations, including eight who died in UDA 'spray jobs' - indiscriminate attacks with automatic weapons on crowded betting shops in Belfast. Loyalist groups often claim that their victims are associated with republican groups; these claims are mostly spurious, and often disputed by the families of the dead, by priests and by Sinn Fein. Most tellingly, they are often dismissed by the security forces. Police witnesses regularly testify at inquests that the victims had no republican associations.

In one recent example, at the inquest into the death of a Catholic claimed by loyalists to be a member of the IRA, a detective said: 'On the contrary, he was very well thought of in the community and he had never come under adverse police attention.'

Loyalist violence has, however, always been more nakedly sectarian than that from the republican quarter: the extreme loyalists tend to regard the Catholic community as a whole as the enemy, and lose little sleep when an uninvolved Catholic is killed.

Several factors have contributed to the steady rise in violence. In the early Eighties, loyalist activity was at a low level, but the increased polarisation and political uncertainty that followed the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement brought a rise in killings. The unmasking of the British Army's intelligence agent Brian Nelson, together with the hurried departures of two other informers, may mean that loyalist ranks are not so well penetrated by the security forces as in the past.

The new apolitical UDA leadership has been markedly less inhibited than its predecessors, while a consignment of arms as part of a deal with South African agents four years ago means the illegal armoury is probably better stocked than ever.

Another contributing factor may have been the lack of success of the Northern Ireland political talks. The huge gap that they exposed between Unionist and nationalist ideas may have reinforced the notion that the problem is beyond political resolution and can only be settled by violent means.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Environment
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells