Loyalist terrorists in Northern Ireland have issued threats against journalists working for two Belfast-based newspapers, the owners have said.
A number of reporters working for the Sunday Life and Sunday World were visited by police officers in the early hours of Friday morning with warnings of imminent attacks by the South East Antrim UDA – a breakaway UDA group.
At least one journalist was told of a planned under-car booby trap attack and the warnings also said journalists at the two Sunday titles – both owned by Independent News and Media (INM) – were at risk of attack.
The development comes just weeks after the first anniversary of the New IRA murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry.
The PSNI is taking the threat seriously and officers have been in contact with the journalists.
Police have confirmed they are in receipt of information that indicates a planned and co-ordinated campaign of intimidation.
Peter Vandermeersch, publisher at INM, said: "We will, of course, work with the police to ensure our staff's safety.
“Threats against journalists should not be tolerated in any free society.
"Today marks the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany and an important element in that victory was ensuring freedom of speech for subsequent generations.
“It is depressing that thugs still believe they can silence the press through intimidation.
“The Sunday World and Sunday Life will continue to publish stories that shed light in dark corners.”
The loyalist terror gang continues to be involved in criminality and has been linked to several murders in recent years.
The gang has murdered three people in the past three years.
Members of the South East Antrim UDA have been linked to the murder of Glenn Quinn, 47, in January who was found in his flat in Carrickfergus.
It is understood the threat has been linked to the papers’ coverage of the murders and paramilitary activities.
Séamus Dooley, National Union of Journalists assistant general secretary, expressed grave concern at what he described as another attempt to intimidate and silence journalists in Northern Ireland.
He said: “This threat is being taken seriously by the PSNI, by the company and by the staff.
“This is an extremely worrying development and will be viewed with great concern by all journalists in Northern Ireland.
“Free press is a corner stone of democracy and it is essential that journalists are allowed to work without fear or intimidation.
“The threat comes in the week in which we celebrate World Press Freedom day and it is a stark reminder of the intimidation that workers throughout the world face from those who fear the consequences of journalism.”
In 2001 Sunday World reporter Martin O'Hagan was murdered by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) paramilitaries.
The loyalist group targeted the journalist as he walked home with his wife. No one has ever been convicted of his murder. – PA