BELFAST (Reuters) - A group of militant Irish nationalists said it shot dead a Northern Irish prison officer as he drove to work earlier this month, and linked the attack to a dispute over prison conditions.
Belfast-based newspaper The Irish News on Monday said it had received a statement claiming responsibility for the shooting from the IRA, a coalition of dissident groups formed earlier this year.
The group says it is the successor of the much larger Provisional IRA, which fought British forces in the 1970s and 1980s but disbanded after the 1998 Good Friday peace deal. The provisional IRA sprang from the IRA, which took part in Ireland's war of independence from Britain.
The Good Friday pact largely ended three decades of sectarian conflict between Protestants loyal to British rule and mostly Roman Catholic nationalists who want to unite with the southern Irish republic, but dissident militants continue to target the security forces.
The murder of David Black, who worked at the top security Maghaberry Jail, was the first killing of a prison officer in Northern Ireland in almost 20 years and the fifth fatal attack on a member of the security establishment since 1998.
"An active service unit of the IRA executed prison guard David Black," the IRA statement said.
"While the IRA never takes this type of action lightly, the IRA has a responsibility to protect and defend Republican POWs."
The statement said the killing was a direct response to what it said was the "degradation" of Republican prisoners at Maghaberry, where militant nationalists have been protesting against their living conditions and strip-searches.
Four men have been arrested by police in connection with the murder, but all have been released without charge.
(Reporting by Ian Graham and Conor Humphries; editing by Keiron Henderson)