Security sources warn that both the IRA and loyalist groups are intent on maintaining their high level of activity, and that the extreme Protestants are considered particularly dangerous at the moment.
The sources claim that only a very intense level of surveillance on suspected loyalist gunmen has averted a steep increase in their attacks. But Thursday's incident, in which four Catholic workmen were killed in Co Londonderry, shows that the assassins can still get through.
The IRA admitted yesterday that one of the four, James Kelly, 25, from Maghera, Co Londonderry, was one of its members. The Ulster Defence Association statement claiming responsibility for the shooting had named Kelly, describing him as IRA commander in Maghera.
He was the primary target for the attack, though the three gunmen who riddled the workmen's van appear to have been intent on killing everyone inside. A fifth man injured in the attack is still seriously ill. Four Protestants from the Coleraine area were arrested by the Royal Ulster Constabulary yesterday and are being questioned in relation to the attack.
Meanwhile, an important discovery of fertiliser of a type used in IRA bombs was made following Thursday night's killing of a Catholic youth in west Belfast. Damien Walsh, 17, was gunned down in a Stewartstown Road coal shop and the owner was wounded. The fertiliser was found in an unoccupied shop near by. Police suspect it may have been transported in the guise of coal. Last week they found more than a ton of fertiliser, some of it in coal bags, in west Belfast.
The funeral took place yesterday of a Sinn Fein member who was killed by loyalists as he arrived for work in west Belfast on Wednesday. Peter Gallagher, a 44-year-old father of six from Toomebridge, Co Antrim, was killed by a gunman who made his escape on a mountain bike.Reuse content