Northern Ireland: What happened last night and was murdered journalist Lyra McKee targeted because she was reporting on sectarian violence?

Police believe Lyra McKee was hit by a gunman targeting police officers 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 19 April 2019 11:23
Comments
Woman shot dead in Londonderry unrest

Police are hunting for a gunman who shot a journalist dead during riots in Derry, amid fears of rising sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

Lyra McKee, 29, was covering violence in the city’s Creggan district on Thursday night, which saw cars set on fire and police vehicles hit with petrol bombs and fireworks.

Republican terrorist group the New IRA is believed to be behind the shooting, as well as a car bombing that struck Derry in January and a parcel bombs sent to targets on the British mainland.

How did the violence start?

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) launched a major security operation in Creggan on Friday evening.

Officers said they were aiming to disrupt dissident republicans ahead of this weekend's commemoration of Irish independence.

Footage showed people gathering to watch forensic officers enter homes, before the police came under attack.

“Violent dissident republicans are planning attacks in this city and we were carrying out a search operation in Creggan,” said Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton.

“The searches were being carried out because we believed that firearms and explosives were being stored in the area.

“We believe that dissident republicans have a number of attacks planned and we assess it is likely that these would have been used over the Easter period.

“As we began those searches just after 9pm a crowd gathered and before long upwards of 50 petrol bombs were thrown at officers.”

Police said more than 50 petrol bombs were thrown at officers, as well as fireworks and bricks, and vehicles were hijacked and set on fire.

By the time of the shooting, there were an estimated 100 people on the streets in the area.

Republican Twitter accounts supporting the violence described police as “British crown forces” and characterised the search operation as an “incursion”.

Creggan, a large housing estate on the outskirts of Derry, saw frequent attacks on the British Army during the Troubles and was controlled for a period by the IRA.

Recent years have seen regeneration projects carried out but a recent report by the Institute for Conflict Research found that sectarian violence and vigilantism persists.

A burning car in Creggan, Derry after petrol bombs were thrown at police on 18 April

Was Ms McKee targeted?

Police believe that the gunman was targeting police and accidentally hit the journalist, who was standing next to an armoured vehicle.

In footage from the scene, at least two gunshots could be heard followed by screaming.

One clip, apparently filmed on a member of the public’s phone and shared on social media, appeared to show the gunman opening fire.

The figure, dressed in dark clothing and with their face covered, could be seen firing around the corner of a wall in view of numerous witnesses who were standing just metres away.

They fled as a second figure appeared to crouch to the ground to pick up bullet casings and other potential evidence.

Leona O’Neill, a freelance journalist, was also among reporters in Creggan and filmed cars being set on alight and fireworks and petrol bombs being thrown at police minutes before the shooting.

“I was standing beside this young woman when she fell beside a police Land Rover tonight in Creggan,” she wrote on Twitter. “I called an ambulance for her but police put her in the back of their vehicle and rushed her to hospital where she died. Just 29 years old. Sick to my stomach tonight.”

Mr Hamilton said: “At 11pm a gunman appeared and fired a number of shots towards the police and a young woman, Lyra McKee, was wounded.

“She was taken away from the scene in a police Land Rover to Altnagelvin Hospital but unfortunately she has died and we have now launched a murder inquiry here in the city.

“We believe this to be a terrorist act, we believe it has been carried out by violent dissident republicans.

“Our assessment at this time would be that the New IRA are most likely to be the ones behind this and that forms our primary line of inquiry.”

But Saoradh, a dissident republican group that has denied links to the IRA, issued a statement claiming a “Republican Volunteer” had opened fire while “attempting to defend people from the PSNI/RUC”.

Characterising the police searches as an “attack” on republicans, the statement said: “The inevitable reaction to such an incursion was resistance from the youth of Creggan. The blame for last night lies squarely at the feet of the British Crown Forces, who sought to grab headlines and engineered confrontation with the community.

“During this attack on the community, a Republican Volunteer attempted to defend people from the PSNI/RUC. Tragically a young journalist covering the events, Lyra McKee, was killed accidentally while standing behind armed Crown Force personnel and armoured vehicles.

“This outcome is heartbreaking and we extend our sincerest sympathy to the family, friends and loved ones of the deceased.”

Lyra Mckee was shot dead during dissident republican violence in Northern Ireland

What is the New IRA?

The newest incarnation of the IRA and currently the biggest dissident republican group operating in Northern Ireland.

The New IRA is believed to have been formed between 2011 and 2012 following the merger of a number of smaller groups, including the Real IRA - the group behind the 1998 Omagh bomb.

It is strongest in Derry, north and west Belfast, Strabane in County Derry, Lurgan in County Armagh, and pockets of Tyrone.

It was held responsible for a car bombing outside Derry’s courthouse in January.

The explosives-laden vehicle was left on the city centre street on a Saturday night and scores of people, including a group of teenagers, had walked past before it detonated.

The New IRA also claimed a number package bombs posted to targets in London and Glasgow in March.

Ms McKee’s death is the fourth murder it has been linked to, including a car bombing that killed PC Ronan Kerr in Omagh in 2011.

The group is also linked to the deaths of prison officers David Black, who was shot as he drove to work at Maghaberry Prison in 2012, and Adrian Ismay, who died in 2016 after a bomb exploded under his van outside his home in east Belfast.

Who was Lyra McKee?

Lyra McKee was a 29-year-old journalist who had recently moved to Derry to live with her partner.

She worked as an editor for California-based news site Mediagazer, a trade publication covering the media industry but had also freelanced for outlets including Reuters, the Belfast Telegraph, Buzzfeed and the Atlantic.

Ms McKee had three stories published by The Independent, including a piece exploring the treatment of the LGBT community and Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Another explored the impact on sectarian violence on the “Good Friday Agreement generation” and suicides, including that of her childhood best friend.

She had written a book on the Troubles murder of the Reverend Robert Bradford, the MP for South Belfast, and had been investigating the disappearance and young men for her second book – The Lost Boys.

Publisher Faber called Ms McKee a “rising star of investigative journalism” and in 2016, Forbes Magazine named her one of their 30 under 30 in media.

Her last tweet showed a photo of burning cars and police vehicles at the scene of the unrest with the caption: “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”

Lyra McKee

How have people reacted?

Northern Ireland, already shaken by the Derry car bombing and a wave of pipe bombings, is in shock.

Politicians from all parties have condemned Ms McKee’s murder and called for justice.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster tweeted: ”Heartbreaking news. A senseless act. A family has been torn apart.

“Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s & 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019.

"No one wants to go back. My thoughts are also with the brave officers who stood in defence of their community."

Social Democratic and Labour Party representative Mark H Durkan said he was “heartbroken and angry at the senseless loss of a young life”.

“Violence only creates victims, that's all it ever has done,” he added. “The thoughts and prayers of our city are with the young woman's family and friends, may she rest in peace.”

CCTV shows moment of Derry 'car bomb'

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill condemned those responsible.

“The murder of this young woman is a human tragedy for her family, but it is also an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on our peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement,” she added.

“We will remain resolute in our opposition to the pointless actions of these people who care nothing for the people of Derry.

“We remain united in our determination to building a better and peaceful future for all.”

Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley said she was "deeply shocked and saddened" to hear of the death.

"My thoughts and condolences are with her family at this time,” she said. “Those responsible for last night's violence have nothing to offer anyone in Northern Ireland.

"Their intolerable actions are rejected by the overwhelming majority of people who want to build a peaceful and more prosperous future for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Hamilton called the shooting a “horrendous” and totally unjustified act of violence.

“Not only is it the murder of a young woman, it’s an attack again upon the people of this city,” he said.

“I stood here in January and we talked about the bomb, and yet again we see another act of violence in this city that has had horrendous consequences and which will affect people for many, many years.

“I would appeal to people, particularly this Easter weekend, to stay calm, I would appeal to people who are intent on violence to draw back, I would appeal to people with influence to use your influence and make sure this is peaceful weekend. Not only this weekend but going forward in this city.

"These acts of violence are bringing nothing to this city, all they are doing is bringing misery to one family, but also particularly to this city and also to our broader province."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in