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1 February 2001 Edition

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RUC's role in North Belfast attacks questioned

BY CAÍTLIN DOHERTY

North Belfast residents are questioning the RUC's role in a series of life-threatening attacks in North Belfast.

In the past week, three people have received warnings from the RUC. They were informed that their details were in the hands of loyalist death squads and that their lives were under "immediate threat". In a chilling development, only hours after receiving these warnings, they, their families and property were attacked.

Last Sunday night, 28 January, a son of leading republican Martin Meehan received warnings that his life was under threat. Within hours, he awoke to the sound of bullets ripping through his home. One bullet hit the wall outside the bedroom window. The other two entered through the bedroom and kitchen windows, lodging in walls inside the house.

The fact that the bullets were fired at the back of the house, in an area where it is virtually impossible for an outsider to recognise a particular home without very detailed information, has raised alarm. Such a development shows that the loyalist death squad responsible for the attack is in possession and is acting on very detailed information.

Just days earlier, on Thursday, 25 January, a former republican activist received the same kind of warning when RUC officers visited his home. The following morning he stepped out of his home to find a bomb attached to his car. The device was the second discovered in Ardoyne since the UDA claimed to be committed to the Good Friday Agreement.

At 8pm on Tuesday evening, 23 January, Martin Meehan junior, another son of the Sinn Féin candidate for South Antrim, was warned by the RUC that his personal details were in the hands of loyalists. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, 24 January, live rounds of ammunition were fired at his family home.

Almost a week after the attack, the Housing Executive had still not visited the home to assess the damage and secure the premises.

It is no coincidence that the family of Martin Meehan has been targeted twice in less than a week. The leading North Belfast republican has in recent years been breaking new ground in areas seen as traditional unionist and loyalist strongholds of South Antrim. The South Antrim Westminster candidate has played a leading role in fighting sectarianism in areas such as Randalstown, Larne, Antrim and Crumlin, where Catholics feel isolated and vulnerable.

He has also played a key role in Sinn Féin's electoral development in such areas.

Local residents and political representatives are now demanding answers.

In all three cases, the RUC informed the victims that details were in the hands of a death squad but refused to give any further information.

"If the RUC are taking the trouble to carry out visits, why are they not disclosing details?" asked Margaret McClenaghan, Sinn Féin candidate for North Belfast. This kind of information, for example the registration of a car that is used to bring the children to school, can save lives."

Margaret McClenaghan also says that the RUC knows exactly which organisation is behind the threats.

"The RUC is giving the warnings on the basis of coded-word information. Given that they know exactly which group would use such codes, why are they not informing people about the source and nature of the threats?"

"The RUC are laying the groundwork for these attacks to take place", said one fearful resident. It beggars belief that the UDA is able to carry out these attacks despite the RUC having prior knowledge of threats on individual's lives."

Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, said he was in no doubt that such attacks are the work of the UDA. "This grouping is not adhering to its so-called ceasefire and nowhere is it more evident than in North Belfast," he said. "It is, however, particularly worrying that these attacks have increased in frequency since the split within the UDP."

Residents are now fearful of more attacks. At least seven other people have been warned in recent days that their lives are under immediate threat and people who have not received warnings are also being targeted.

Residents are also particularly worried at information suggesting that, in the aftermath of the attacks on the Meehan family, no car was seen or heard in the area.

"This suggests that the UDA is acting on very detailed and accurate information and is increasingly confident about coming into Ardoyne to carry out such attacks," said a resident.

UPDATE


On Wednesday, 31 January, a Catholic woman working at the Wishing Well women's centre in loyalist Glenbryn, North Belfast, discovered a bomb on the back seat of her car, which she had parked outside the centre. The woman went out to investigate a broken car window and discovered an object on the car seat. Not realising the danger she was putting herself in, she removed the device from the car before someone suggested it might be a bomb. A group of four-year-olds had to be evecuated while the device was dealt with.
Also on Wednesday, Gerry Kelly confirmed that Catholic staff at the Mater Hospital have been threatened and intimidated by the UDA. His accusation follows bomb warnings and a pipe bomb attack in North Belfast. "Those threats are particularly worrying given the increase in attacks over the past week and the fact that all warnings and threats have been followed by an attack in a very short period of time," he said. "What is patently obvious now is that, despite their claims to the contrary, the UDA's cessation no longer exists."
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