Killers used local knowledge of Border area to evade capture after murder
BackgroundPSNI and Garda sources say dissident republican involvement unlikely
Security sources in Northern Ireland suspect that the gang members who murdered Det Garda Adrian Donohoe are from the south Armagh-north Louth area, know the Border well and are using it to try to make their apprehension as difficult as possible.
The same sources concurred with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter that the car discovered burned out near Keady, Co Armagh, on Sunday morning was likely to be the murder vehicle and that a cross-Border criminal gang was involved.
Local strategic thinking
Even where the killers abandoned the car pointed to local strategic thinking, they added. It was found in the Fews forest near Keady. Had it been located in the South, Garda forensic people would have been speedily on the scene to examine it.
But their PSNI counterparts must exercise greater caution in approaching torched cars abandoned where dissident republican paramilitaries have traction.
“The PSNI would have to have a slower approach in going in to that vehicle, given where it is and given the type of terrorist challenges it creates – challenges that the guards don’t routinely face,” said one senior security source.
“They have probably stalled things by putting the car on the Northern side. They have probably bought themselves some time,” he added.
He agreed that “everything points to them being from the north Louth-south Armagh area”, but wasn’t so sure about deducing that dissident republicans were involved.
“It’s a possibility but I don’t think it’s a given by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “It looks more criminal than DR [dissident republican].
“This is a fertile criminal hunting area. The gangs can nip backwards and forwards across the Border. It creates operational, investigative, jurisdictional challenges for both police organisations.”
Contrary to some reports, so far the PSNI does not appear to be concentrating on a line of inquiry that those involved are a Dublin gang who have moved north of the Border to the Newry and Warrenpoint areas – again, while not ruling out such a possibility.
That the killers are a cross-Border criminal grouping remains the main investigative focus. The problem here though is that such is the level of crime in this area, which for so long has been dubbed “bandit country” – much to the annoyance of most locals – that there could be scores of potential suspects.
Haven for criminals
Such is the history of this Border region, there can be a general crossover between paramilitarism and criminality.
However, as Northern security sources pointed out, the Border before, during and after the Troubles was always a haven for people who engaged in various forms of criminality such as fuel and cigarette smuggling, general forms of excise fraud and dealing in stolen cars.
“These boys might turn their hands to anything,” one security source said. “It just depends what they feel comfortable with, where they think there is lots of money to be made but where they feel there is very little risk for them.
“That can be robbing a bank, post office, a credit union, a cash in transit vehicle, a tiger kidnapping.”
The fact that Det Garda Donohoe was killed by a shotgun blast seemed to reinforce the security conviction that this was more a criminal than dissident operation, as dissidents would be likely to be carrying “more serious” weapons.
Were the killer gang from Dublin, there could be some expectation that other city criminals might rat on them to escape the security heat generated by a Garda murder.
However if this is a cross-Border gang – as is the prevailing security belief – then the Garda and PSNI must deal with an additional problem distinctive to so-called “bandit country” – that of breaching the south Armagh criminal and republican code of Omerta.