Province harbours hundreds of killers: David McKittrick examines the unrelenting toll of violence during more than 20 years of the Troubles

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The Independent Online
NORTHERN Ireland's population of 1 1/2 million contains, at a conservative estimate, several thousand people who have taken part in killings or attempted or conspired to do so. Almost 600 have been jailed for murder; many hundreds more have been involved in killings but escaped imprisonment.

Some are multiple offenders, involved in paramilitary activity over many years and undeterred by prison sentences. Others take part in one killing and then no others. Comparatively few, according to psychiatrists, show any remorse.

As the statistics indicate, the IRA has been the principal taker of life throughout the troubles, and has been by far the biggest threat to the security forces. Its list of 'legitimate targets' is extensive, including all members of the Army, RUC and UDR, anyone who carries out work for the security forces, and judges and magistrates.

The organisation has also killed civilians, Unionist politicians, alleged loyalist extremists, alleged informers, former members of the security forces, prison officers and senior businessmen, and attacked senior civil servants.

The main target of loyalist groups, by contrast, has been the Catholic population as a whole. Organisations such as the UDA and UVF have aimed to kill suspected republicans, but many of their victims had no paramilitary or political connections.

The remaining category, the security forces, have been responsible for some 350 killings. So-called 'shoot-to-kill' incidents involving the Army, in particular the SAS, and to a lesser extent the RUC, have often been criticised by nationalists and civil liberties organisations.

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