Politicians blamed an Irish Republican Army splinter group Friday for killing a man on the run from a death threat, the first such killing attributed to a shadowy gang that specializes in intimidating alleged drug dealers.
Andrew "Chubby" Allen, 24, died Thursday night after a gunman on foot opened fire through a window of his home and struck the victim at least once in the head. Police said they found the attacker's getaway car abandoned and torched on a roadside several miles (kilometers) away, but made no arrests.
Allen last year fled his Northern Ireland hometown of Londonderry after receiving death threats from Republican Action Against Drugs, an organization forged by former members of both the IRA and a rival group called the Irish National Liberation Army. Allen had recently resettled with his partner and two children 14 miles (23 kilometers) away in the seaside Republic of Ireland town of Buncrana, where he was killed.
Over the past three years Republican Action Against Drugs has targeted scores of people branded drug dealers, mostly in Londonderry. It has shot at least 17 men and teenage boys in the legs and arms and targeted two dozen homes and cars with pipe bombs, but Allen would be the group's first fatal victim.
Republican Action Against Drugs issued no statement to confirm or deny its involvement. Catholic and Protestant politicians alike said they had no doubt that the group was responsible.
Jonathan Craig, a Northern Ireland lawmaker from the major Protestant-backed party, the Democratic Unionists, described the group as "a fanatical micro-group" that is determined to act "as judge, jury and executioner."
Mark Durkan, the Catholic politician who represents Londonderry in the British Parliament, said the killers were trapped in a discredited IRA mindset and "the very worst of our past."
Northern Ireland's long-dominant faction, the Provisional IRA, officially disarmed and renounced violence in 2005, followed by the smaller Irish National Liberation Army in 2009. Tellingly, however, the INLA's last official killing that year was of a prominent Londonderry drug dealer. Within weeks, attacks began to be claimed under the new nom de guerre of Republican Action Against Drugs.
Several IRA splinter groups still pursuing violence today all claim the right to shoot criminal rivals who operate in their Irish Catholic power bases. Such so-called "punishment" attacks rarely prove lethal and so attract little attention.
The Rev. Michael Canny, a Catholic priest who has tried to talk peace with Londonderry's IRA die-hards, said death threats by Republican Action Against Drugs have obliged an estimated 37 men to flee the city since 2009, including 10 from Allen's own neighborhood.
"RAAD now claim to be the city's true law enforcers, just like the IRA in the bad old days. And they claim that in the absence of the IRA they're obliged to continue this vigilante action. But nobody in their right minds wants this law of the jungle," Canny said.
The wider security threat to Northern Ireland, meanwhile, was highlighted in a Belfast court Friday as a judge told an IRA dissident he must serve at least 25 years in prison for his role in killing two British soldiers on March 7, 2009.
Justice Anthony Hart said Brian Shivers, 46, and several other members of the Real IRA faction had tried that night "to kill as many soldiers and others as they could."
Two gunmen opened fire on several off-duty, unarmed soldiers as they collected pizzas outside a British Army base in the town of Antrim. As the soldiers and two pizza couriers scrambled for cover, the gunmen shot them at close range on the ground. Two soldiers aged 21 and 23 were killed, while two other soldiers and both deliverymen were wounded.
Shivers was convicted of murder last month while another man was acquitted. The judge had postponed Shivers' sentencing until Friday.