Irish deploy military-style checkpoints to suppress gang war

AP News
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Posted: Feb 09, 2016 11:20 AM
Irish deploy military-style checkpoints to suppress gang war

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's police force deployed military-style road checkpoints Tuesday as the government announced toughened measures to try to prevent a gang war in Dublin from claiming more lives.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said a 55-member armed police unit would be created for Dublin in hopes of suppressing what she called an "evil and sinister cycle of gangland violence."

The move is significant in a country where police typically patrol unarmed. It was announced at an emergency meeting with police chiefs following Monday night's killing of a brother of Gerry "The Monk" Hutch, a gang chieftain credited with directing many of Ireland's most famous bank heists.

Taxi driver Eddie Hutch, 59, was shot several times in the hallway of his home. He was targeted in apparent retaliation for Friday's gun attack on a boxing weigh-in being attended by senior figures from a rival gang led by Irish fugitive Christy Kinahan, the other key figure in the underworld bloodletting.

In Friday's attack, five gunmen allegedly from the Hutch camp targeted Kinahan loyalists arriving at the hotel for the boxing event. The gunmen, including three armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and disguised as an elite police unit, shot three men, killing one, in front of scores of civilians including young children.

The violence focuses on the international drug-trafficking business of Kinahan, a Dubliner who following prison sentences in Ireland and the Netherlands runs his empire from a villa in Spain's Costa del Sol. Police in Ireland, Britain and Spain opened a probe into his operations in 2008, the same year Kinahan jumped bail in Belgium over money-laundering charges.

Since 2014, the Kinahan cartel has been blamed for killing a string of former members accused of pilfering vast sums from drug deals, and this has brought him into collision with Hutch's crew, who previously cooperated with Kinahan drug traffickers. A nephew, Gary Hutch, was gunned down in Spain in September 2015 after reportedly rebuffing the demands of Kinahan henchmen for a six-figure payment.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, leader of Dublin's 1 million Catholics, rejected some politicians' calls Tuesday to serve as mediator between the Hutch and Kinahan camps. He appealed to the killers' own partners, mothers and other loved ones to apply moral pressure on them in the home and for neighbors of gangsters "to remind them they are not untouchable" by tipping off police about their activities.

"These are turf wars about pumping drugs into our children," Martin said. "The danger of negotiating with them is to give them status. They are criminals."

Police found the getaway car used by Eddie Hutch's killers abandoned about a mile (2 kilometers) away with balaclava masks and a container of fuel still inside, a sign that the attackers didn't have enough time to torch the car and destroy forensic evidence.

Fitzgerald said police were staking out the residences of the most likely targets in Dublin's gangland feud and would "saturate" high-crime areas with road checkpoints designed to make it harder for any killers to operate. She said gang associates "who have fears for their safety" should tell police directly.

Friday's boxing event in Dublin attracted many figures from Spain associated with Kinahan, presenting a juicy target for those seeking retribution for the Gary Hutch slaying. Among those present was Kinahan's son Daniel, but he wasn't hit.

Witnesses said they heard one of the gunmen — a man in a blonde wig disguised as a woman and displaying a handgun — declare in frustration that they couldn't find Daniel Kinahan amid the melee.

Police say they have identified most of those involved in Friday's attack but have made no arrests, in part because they suspect the gunmen have fled Ireland.

Eddie Hutch was described by police and politicians as a "soft target" because, unlike his high-profile brother, he was not considered an important gangland figure. However, Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau several years ago did seize a bank account in Eddie Hutch's name containing 160,000 euros ($180,000) believed to contain proceeds from his brother's robberies.

Another of Hutch's relatives currently behind bars, Derek "Del Boy" Hutch, has been moved to a secure wing of prison to deter assassins. He was convicted in 2010 of stabbing a man to death at a party and of attempting to rob a cash-filled armored car.

Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency says Kinahan's operation provides money-laundering services for other gangs across Europe and has assets exceeding 200 million euros ($225 million).

Muddying the picture, an Irish Republican Army faction with links to Dublin organized crime claimed responsibility for Friday's hotel attack. But that group, the Continuity IRA, issued a second statement Monday night saying it was not involved.

Police say IRA factions are involved in supplying weapons to, and demanding protection money from, their criminal rivals. The Dublin leader of the Real IRA splinter group was killed in 2012 in alleged retaliation for his efforts to extort money from Kinahan gang members.