Murder of Ulster couple fuels fears over future targets

THE DOUBLE murder of an elderly Catholic couple by loyalist extremists in Co Tyrone has led to fears that the range of what the terrorists regard as 'legitimate targets' has again been extended.

The apparent motive for gunning down the couple in their country cottage was the republican connections of some members of their family. The killings were immediately followed by appeals from religious and community leaders for no retaliation.

The dead couple have been named as Charlie and Teresa Fox, who lived near Moy and were aged 63 and 53 respectively. They were shot dead on Sunday night, but their bodies were not discovered until yesterday morning by their two daughters.

A nurse called to the scene said she found Mrs Fox in the kitchen dressed in outdoor clothes, and her husband in the next room in his nightclothes. A car believed to have been used by the killers was found burnt out about a mile away late on Sunday.

On 28 August a son of the dead couple, Patrick Daniel Fox, 23, was jailed for 12 years when he admitted possessing a 1,250lb (567kg) bomb. A previous court hearing was told the RUC believed he had been a member of an IRA team in continental Europe.

Kevin McKearney, who was a son-in-law of the Foxes, was shot dead in his father's butcher's shop in Moy last August. Two of his brothers were killed while on IRA 'active service', one of them shot dead by the SAS in the Loughgall ambush in 1987.

The Foxes lived in a district which is religiously mixed, and were known to both sides as a staunch republican family. Their connection with the McKearneys strengthened this reputation, and such a web of family connections may have been enough to satisfy extreme loyalists that the Foxes were fair game for murder.

The immediate suspects for the killings will be a loyalist gang based in the Lurgan and Portadown areas of Co Armagh, who have shown no compunction in the past about shooting uninvolved Catholics, including women. The burnt-out car was found at the intersection of a motorway which leads to their home district.

Locally, the killing has revived memories of some of the darkest days of the troubles. In the early and mid-1970s there were so many killings of Catholics that that part of the country was known as 'the murder triangle'. Two other elderly Catholic couples died at loyalist hands during that period.

The Foxes were described by the Tyrone priest Father Denis Faul as 'very simple, decent, innocent people', while the Church of Ireland Archbishop Dr Robin Eames denounced 'this barbarous act'. Ken Maginnis, the Unionist MP, said the shootings were 'a blasphemy before God', with the Alliance describing them as the work of satanic minds.

(Photograph omitted)