Arrest puts death probe at centre of Sinn Fein leadership
The arrest of Bobby Storey has brought the police probe into the death of Kevin McGuigan right to the heart of the Sinn Fein leadership.
Senior republican Storey remained in police custody last night following his arrest yesterday morning after PSNI officers swooped on a number of homes across Belfast.
In the aftermath of the former IRA commander's arrest, Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness publicly defended him, describing him as "a valued member of the party's leadership" and a "person of great integrity".
Two other senior republicans, Eddie Copeland and Brian Gillen, both former top IRA men, were also arrested during yesterday morning's planned policing operation. All three were taken to Antrim Serious Crime Suite for questioning over last month's murder of Kevin McGuigan, who was shot dead in front of his wife in the Short Strand area of east Belfast.
He is believed to have been killed in revenge for the murder of his former IRA comrade Jock Davison, who was gunned down in May.
Police have said they had no evidence to connect McGuigan to the Davison murder.
Storey was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the Davison murder to offer support to his family, along with Copeland, who was once named in Parliament as an IRA godfather and Gillen, the former commander of the PIRA in Belfast.
Police believe current members of the PIRA carried out their own investigations into the Davison murder and were involved in the revenge killing of McGuigan.
Officers have warned members of the McGuigan family that their lives are also under threat.
The homes of the three top republicans were raided at dawn yesterday and searches carried out at the properties.
Three police Land Rovers remained outside Storey's house for several hours and a number of bags of evidence were removed for forensic examination. A computer appeared to be among the seized items.
Officers, wearing forensic gloves and forensic masks, also carried out a search of a white car parked in the driveway of the west Belfast house.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said he was gravely concerned at the developments.
He described Mr Storey as a valued member of the party's leadership and a person of great integrity.
The party's president insisted that the IRA, as we understand it to be, had gone and there was no rationale, logic or evidence to suggest there is any organisation in mainstream republicanism, except for Sinn Fein.
He said there was no reason why he would be telling any untruths about the "going away of the IRA".
Martin McGuinness also described Storey as a valued member of Sinn Fein's core leadership.
"He has played a leading role in the development of Sinn Fein's peace strategy and is a long-standing and loyal supporter, defender and advocate of the peace and political processes," said Mr McGuinness. He added: "We look forward with confidence to his early release."
Storey is a former IRA prisoner who in recent years has been a prominent presence at Sinn Fein events and much of his party work is done from Stormont.
Previously he was arrested for questioning over a break-in at Castlereagh Police Station and the Northern Bank robbery.
He was never charged or convicted in relation to those crimes. Last year, police warned him that his life was under threat from dissident republicans.